The Staircase (2004) s01e04 Episode Script

A Prosecution Trickery

Boy is that ever incendiary, right? Yeah.
Jesus Christ.
Yes, it is.
That's just an outrage.
That's just a fucking outrage.
Hey, how are you? We just got their autopsy report.
Give me your fax number, so I can fax it to you.
Yes, ma'am.
I'll fax it right now, and then I'll call you back.
Oh, Jesus.
Me again.
I wanna fax We just got the autopsy report.
Can I fax it to you? Are you at your office? I have to go back to court at 2:30, and the press is trying to unseal this thing, so I need to talk with you some before 2:30.
I'll get it to you right away.
Thank you.
Hey Faris, I got this autopsy on this Germany thing.
As soon as you take a look at it, would you call me? Well, they concluded these injuries were a result of a homicidal attack, so I need for you to take a look at this.
Let me call Butts about this language.
This is just I mean, I've read How many autopsies have we read? I've never seen that.
Hi, is John Butts around, please? Thank you.
Dave Rudolf.
I got a question for you.
I've read 260 autopsies from blunt trauma to the head, and never once did I see any of your people say, "The inflicted trauma is clearly from a homicidal assault.
" Alright, well, could you call me Could you call me back after you get done? Yeah, I appreciate it.
I just know that my mom died in '85.
I think it was the winter of '85.
And she, she I know that she died of a brain hemorrhage.
She had been having many headaches before.
I mean, there's people, many people have said this, that she called her mother, complaining of headaches.
She hated doctors, like I don't like doctors, either.
Neither does Martha.
Um So she didn't want to go see one, no matter how much, you know, Dad Mike and Patty, I guess, told her to go.
And she basically died before she even hit the bottom of the stairs.
And I think it's interesting, you know, that they both were found at the bottom of the stairs, but at the same time, the two things they had in common, besides being my mothers, were that Dad loved them both very, very, very much, and he would have never, ever, hurt either of them, so I think that's what they have in common more than anything malicious.
So The autopsy report released this afternoon details how this woman died more than a decade ago.
The Ratliff autopsy report says her fatal wounds appear to be the result of several blows to the head, injuries that happened while Ratliff was still alive.
Those injuries came from a homicidal assault.
That's inflammatory.
That's not a doctor That's what a jury determines.
Now, the Peterson defense team hopes this report will not prejudice potential jurors.
Alright, it gets curiouser and curiouser.
You can read the entire autopsy report on our website at abc11tv.
I've had one of my biggest fuckings in court ever.
The judge unsealed all this stuff.
You know, this new autopsy The headlines tonight are: "Homicidal Assault.
" Just outrageous.
Anyway, I think I'm gonna need to call these people as witnesses on Wednesday, and I think I'm gonna need your presence here to help me cross-examine them.
Yeah, and we're gonna have to You know, I'm gonna have to cross-examine them pretty vigorously, I think, so yes.
Yes, I want you to be there when he testifies, so that we can cross-examine him.
Alright? Well, if this is admitted the way it stands, the one that we got from the Chapel Hill medical examiner - Well, keep in mind it's not - Will that hurt your case? This doesn't get admitted.
Somebody's gonna have to get up on the witness stand and testify.
And that's really sorta the unfairness of this current procedure.
You know, what gets released to the public right now is simply a one-sided report that we haven't had a chance to ask any questions about.
And I think that's part of the problem here, is that, you know, all that gets put into the news media is you know, a fairly inflammatory statement that is completely unnecessary to the autopsy findings, and was just sorta gratuitous, and you know I don't blame you guys.
I mean, it was put in there because that's exactly what you guys would gravitate to.
Those aren't really lined up the way They're not anything like Kathleen's.
They are, interestingly enough, mainly curved in some way.
I don't know the significance of that.
This one, this one, this one are depicted as curved.
This is kind of curved with a split.
- And Kathleen's - That's really kinda unique.
It's almost like something Right, I don't know what causes curvature, for example.
Is that indicative of something? I don't think Kathleen's had that kind of consistent Let's get her autopsy.
That's that's the same? The truth is these are spread out more.
You've got the top and head, you've got here.
You've got the left.
You've also got bruising on the back and neck, which to me, - would be indicative of falling.
- Falling, right.
I mean, how do you bang somebody on the top of the head? Right.
But that's why they have to say it's either or.
Right, except for then, they admitted that, scientifically, you can't tell the difference.
So these could have been caused by the head hitting a surface, as opposed to, you know, some kind of instrument, so what You know, this is supposed to be a signature thing.
You know it's supposed to There's supposed to be some way in which these are similar.
How does one other than the fact that they're both found at the bottom of stairs? You get a false impression.
I think a misleading impression from the Yeah, I was surprised, when I saw the photographs, how close together they were.
Those look like pattern injuries, or crescent-shaped things from some sort of instrument.
When you look at the photographs, I don't get that impression at all.
No, I don't at all.
Yeah, looking at the sketch, this It doesn't work for me.
I mean, the pictures That's the record, the sketch is just simply that, but I don't think they truly reflect very well, what is in these pictures.
Here, the correspondence, I mean, if that's what they're relying on to reconstruct and to draw conclusions on, this is very misleading.
- The diagram's very misleading.
- 'Cause these look like they're linear, curvilinear and simple.
These are not simple, they're very complex, and when you do this sort of thing, what sort of impacts produce scalp lacerations like that? - Yeah.
- Probably not blows.
I mean, what instrument would do that? I see.
These are more clear, I think more characteristic of impacts where the skin just the splits.
Well, the hearing tomorrow on Ratliff, I think, is probably the most important hearing, may very well be the most important day in court that we have in this entire case.
I think that the evidence about the death in Germany, if it comes in, will have a substantial impact, even subconsciously on how the jurors evaluate the evidence in this case.
Even though there's not a shred of evidence that Michael had anything to do with Elizabeth Ratliff's death, the mere fact that it comes in evidence will have an impact.
So my view is that if we win the motion tomorrow, and keep the Ratliff evidence out, because it's not relevant.
This is not a technicality.
Because it's not relevant, and because the State can't show that it's relevant, we will have a very good chance of winning this trial, because the rest of the evidence, I think, is pretty minimal.
Well, what we've done is, we've subpoenaed their witnesses.
We've subpoenaed Deborah Radisch and some of the other doctors who have done the autopsies, and we want to put them on the stand and force them to do more than just give their bare conclusions.
Their reports are very bare-bones.
What we want to do is, we want to get them on the stand and be able to ask them the hard questions that they don't address in their reports to show that the basis of their conclusions is simply flawed.
This is the kind of evidence that can really prejudice and taint a trial unfairly.
It's the kind of evidence that courts have traditionally said you just don't let in.
In my opinion, the '85 death If the State tried to introduce evidence of that in the Court, it could come in any number of ways, for which I will listen to arguments about.
Has the State filed a motion to have the Court consider Miss Ratliff's death? We are not a proponent of that evidence at this point, and will not be until the Court actually is involved in this trial and begins hearing evidence of all these matters.
Judge two weeks ago or three weeks ago, you sat there and agreed that this was an issue, - particularly Ratliff.
- It is an issue.
But that has to be decided before jury selection for very good reasons.
I'm not aware of any law that the Court can direct the State to do that.
- Now what the Court can do - I mean, I can I'm not sure there's North Carolina State law that the Court can order the State to do I don't think you can order them to do that.
What you can do, is say, "If you don't file the notice and have the hearing today, you're not going to be allowed to introduce that evidence, because it's prejudicial to the defense.
" Let's just look at this from a practical perspective.
If I don't know whether or not that's coming in, I've got to assume it is, and therefore, I'm going to spend lots of time in opening statement talking to the jurors about that, finding out what they think, and talking about the facts and all that stuff.
So now all of a sudden, Mr.
Hardin says, "Judge, I'm sorry.
We're not going to introduce.
" Now, are you going to instruct the jury to disregard everything that I said in my opening statement? How is that How are you gonna instruct them to disregard what I said, and have me maintain my credibility with a jury that is deciding my client's life? I believe, frankly, it would be ineffective assistance of counsel for him not to deal with it, whether the evidence is admissible or not, because it's out there, the news media spent three or four days using the same footage of the exhumation down in Texas.
It's still going on up until this morning, which raises another question about all of these interviews that Mr.
Rudolf likes to give to the media about the evidence.
My client wanted this trial to proceed for a long time The DA delayed that exhumation for months and months and months.
Now, two weeks before or three weeks before trial, he decides to go ahead with an exhumation, and that is simply unfair.
He did it intentionally.
He did it knowingly.
He stands here, and talks sanctimoniously about how I'm talking to the press in response to a medical examiner's report - I knew you were gonna bring that up.
- Yeah.
That gratuitously uses the term "homicidal attack," or "assault," and I'm supposed to sit back and allow my client to be prejudiced by that.
And by this show that he's put together.
And just sit back and do nothing? The Court declines Mr.
Rudolf, in its discretion, to determine the admissibility of the death of Miss Ratliff today and pre-trial.
The Court, in its discretion, will rule on its admissibility when proffered by the State of North Carolina as evidence in this particular case.
You know, I subpoenaed all three medical examiners, and was prepared to cross-examine all of them - Today? - Today! So why is it that it's OK for them to write reports that have conclusions like "homicidal assault," and yet not have to get up on a witness stand today? What is his sexual preference? What is whose sexual preference? Mr.
Hardin's? Your client's, not Mr.
I don't know what Mr.
Hardin's is.
You know, would you really expect What's your sexual preference? - Come on.
- Your guy's on trial, I'm not.
We can check that.
Actually, I'm not going to answer those kind of questions.
Where's my client? You want to sit in the dining room, or out here? - Out here is fine.
- Wherever is Get out.
You, go! - Get me a Diet Coke.
- Yeah.
Go, out, get out.
Where the hell is the silverware? That drawer on the right.
In one of the top, bottom, second drawer.
This second drawer? I keep the hot pads and the other stuff in the top drawer.
He keeps it right underneath the cupboard with the bloody fingerprints.
There is no doubt in my mind that those two guys knew exactly what was gonna happen before that hearing started.
I mean, the little speech that Orlando did at the beginning.
You know Hardin, it wasn't You know, he didn't say to Hardin, "Alright, you know, what are you What are you talking about? We're here for a hearing.
You know? What do you mean, 'you don't think we got to go forward'? I mean on Monday, we sat here for three All day talking about whether this hearing should be closed or not.
You didn't say anything then.
" I just don't understand that.
I mean, what's in it for Judge Hudson? - To cooperate - You know There's gotta be a payoff somewhere.
That's all I can say.
I don't know what it is, but there's something in it for him.
There's something, maybe there's a blowjob in it for him.
I don't know.
Do you have any doubt that this was collusion? It struck me as being scripted.
It was just choreographed.
It was completely choreographed.
I've been in front of lots of judges, with lots of prosecutors, in lots of situations, and I've gotta tell you, I have never ever seen something like that before.
I don't think David, and I don't think Tom believed me, or anybody from the beginning, but when I said, "This isn't Chapel Hill, This isn't Raleigh, this isn't Charlotte.
This isn't This is Durham.
It's unique, it's particular.
It's dirty.
It's corrupt.
It's small.
I don't think anybody knows this town better than I do.
And I That's what I did for years, and I told you guys from the beginning - No, you did.
- This is it.
I've had a personal relationship with Orlando for years, and it never got through to me that it could affect him personally in that way.
Yeah, he's I just find him disgusting, but So The Ratliff stuff is coming into evidence.
- The gay stuff is coming into evidence.
- Sure! Alright? So we've got to deal with it, no matter what.
You can almost turn this into a challenge to the DA.
We don't know whether it's coming in or not, do we think it's a joke? But these are the reasons why, if you let you get into that, if he brings it in, we'll talk about it then.
Then, when it doesn't come in, you look like a hero.
You look like you're real smart.
For a change.
Be nice.
The moral support here is very important.
You know? This is going to be a long and arduous trial.
- I just want you to know - He's only got one kidney.
I'm sick.
I want you to understand that he makes these comments, but you're the one who's going to prison.
It's coming in.
If it's coming in, and that's a given, - then that's an assumption.
- It's coming in.
It's coming in.
If that's the given, then I agree.
You've gotta go forward with it.
My presumption right now is that I'm going to take on the Ratliff thing in some way, I'm gonna in some way, present to the jury that it's not fair to try this stuff in the media.
It's not fair.
It's not our way to dig up bodies two weeks before trial, so that there's a whole bunch of publicity.
That doesn't satisfy anybody's burden of proof.
The only way you satisfy a burden of proof - is by bringing in the witness.
- Right.
You have that presumption of innocence and the reasonable doubt.
They've got to overcome that.
The bar on reasonable doubt has been raised significantly now, in the light of the Ratliff, so instead of being there, which we could play it safe, "They didn't prove this," there's alternative things.
With this coincidence, it's now up to here.
Anyway, alright, I think we're done.
You know, this was important for you all to be a part of, so that you know what my thinking is, alright? I think, this is what our thinking was all along.
In terms of look and dress and that tomorrow - Right.
- Alright? Your - eyebrows need to be trimmed - OK.
- you need to be shaved - Right.
you need to look neat, you need to look rested.
- If you need to take a Valium - Sure.
take a Valium, because you know what? You're not going to be needing to do anything other than zoning.
Right, I know that.
Well that's what I was - I don't have any Valium.
- Well, you know what? - You don't need to fall asleep.
- No, no, no.
And also, the other thing is, you know, you're gonna probably hear some things that are gonna be hard to hear.
And if somebody says, "Well, we think he's absolutely guilty," and "Why aren't they seeking the death penalty?" Why don't we just lynch him right here? Yeah, you're not gonna send them daggers, which you don't seem like the kinda person that would do that anyway.
No, and you know, the truth is if somebody says that, the subliminal message, the body language message needs to be, "Thank you for being that honest.
" The other thing is, is because of the Ratliff thing, it's very important for Martha and Margaret - They've gotta be here.
- to be here for the whole trial.
That worked out really nicely Because people have said in the open-ended question, and one of the reasons they think you might not be guilty, or that you have doubts, is that he has proclaimed his innocence, his lawyer is fighting, saying he's innocent, - and his family's sticking by him.
- Right.
Yeah, we were doing one of these corporate exercises with the executive staff, where you're supposed to tell something personal about yourself.
It's team-building, is what it is.
So one guy got up, actually a very good friend of mine He's since left the company, but he said, "You know, I always wanted to be a lawyer.
that was really what I wanted to do, but then I found Jesus, and I realized that being a Christian and being a lawyer are completely incompatible.
" True.
Oh, God So you mean I really gotta shut my mind off now basically for two months? You can't read a book.
Video games.
I mean, you're just supposed to sit there and look And don't stare at the jury.
- Don't stare at the jury.
- No.
'Cause it looks like you're soliciting them.
They'll be looking at you a lot.
That's one thing you have to remember, That you know, they are assessing your behavior and conduct.
- They form opinions about how you behave.
- Dear God.
I need a double.
A standard Saddam Hussein double to sit in for me.
Oh God.
I could sit in a dark, quiet room for two months.
You know, Goethe used to say that was a test of a man, that if you could go If you could lock a man up in a dark room, nothing to read nothing to do, nothing.
Just his own thoughts.
That was Goethe's test of a man.
And I think, "Hell, anybody can do that.
" I think, "No, he needs to rethink that.
The real test of a man is to be able to sit there and listen to Jim Hardin and Orlando Hudson.
The range just gonna go from 39 to 71, 72.
- 61 to 72.
- Right, that's these.
OK, those are in order.
And then I'm gonna go through a whole long thing about the relationship, and I'm going to take them back to 1988, and 1989, and 1992, and 1997, and then I'm going to say, "And together, they built a family out of the various strands of their prior families.
" Wait, wait wait, hold on.
I don't want to have that bar up there, 'cause it's gonna distract them from what I'm saying.
Can you just keep it black screen until I go to your cue, and then pop up with the picture? - Right, you want the picture first.
- The picture.
Let's go back to the black screen.
What is that thing in the middle there? That's just a default bar that doesn't have to show at all.
- I don't want it showing.
- OK.
I can't get rid of it right now, - but I can tonight.
- OK.
Yeah, let's get rid of the bar, OK? And what I'd like to do is When I It's just my telephone.
When I say "Together they built a family out of the various strands of their prior families, - Caitlin" Wait till I - I wanna get on the black screen.
That's right.
I wanna go black screen.
OK, can you turn it on before I even get up to speak, and then go to black screen, so we don't have to see that thing again.
Black? Do you mean You mean this? You want that without this.
Can you lose that? Yes, I can lose it.
I can't lose it right now, - but I can lose it.
- OK, but what I'm saying is, you can just go Can you lose the whole thing so it's just a black screen, and then it goes to the picture, and then goes back.
- Yes, it looks like that.
- Yeah, that's all I want.
- OK.
- And then the next picture comes up.
When I say, "Together they built a family out of the various strands of their prior families," Yeah? I'm leaving.
You need anything? No, we're great.
Thank you very much.
Good night.
"Out of the various strands of their prior families," - put it up.
- OK, so they have something to look at.
- Exactly.
- Yep.
"We can see that the laceration on the left, the V-shape one is consistent with that corner, the last" - Telephone.
- OK.
"The last impact that you saw on that" Got a little situation going on.
We've got smoke in the building, downstairs.
So we may want to You think you can wrap it up for today? How much longer you think you're gonna be? We may have to do an evacuation.
We don't know yet.
We haven't found it yet.
- We're looking for it.
- OK.
Well, if we have to evacuate, we're just going to have to.
You know, we'll do our best, but just let us know, alright? - If you see people running - I appreciate it.
- we've got the fire department here.
- OK, thank you.
"The bottoms of her feet were covered in blood, and how do we know that? - There's a photo of it.
- Do you want it right now? - Yes.
No no no.
- Do you wanna prepare them for it? Well, that doesn't work.
- That doesn't work at all.
- You got this one.
Understand if one is off, they're all gonna be off.
- And then I can put them in proper order.
- This is how it needs to be.
- I do understand that.
- It's right there.
I know that.
I know what I did wrong.
I was doing it on the fly before we started this.
I know what I did wrong.
I made an error when I loaded them in.
Right now This system sucks, 'cause I've done it with presentation group, and I had none of these problems.
None, none.
And I am fucking pissed, because it's 7:20, the night before my opening, and you're fucking around with this.
One of these documents is, apparently, out of order.
I just don't know.
I cannot give you the documents in the order that you want them.
All I can do right now is go through them.
- I guarantee you they will be there.
- I don't want a guarantee.
I want to see it on the screen, so I don't give a shit if we're here all fucking night.
Well, I'm not sure that they will be, either.
I think so, but I don't know.
This case is no more and no longer about Kathleen.
The DA has to win.
That's it.
He doesn't care how, and basically By the same token, my lawyer, they want to win.
Truth is lost in all of this now.
Truth is of no meaning whatsoever.
This has become a show, and it has got its own momentum, and we're just going along.
I don't think the DA cares about truth anymore.
All he wants to do is win.
And I understand that.
I mean, sure.
And the same way with David.
He wants to win.
Well, I want to win, too, but I'm still very concerned about the reality of what happened that night.
Hey, guys.
Where's Mike? - What's that? - They hit a stoplight, my dad and Faris.
OK, I'll wait.
They're coming.
Be nice.
Be calm.
- You alright? - Yeah.
- Pretty good, how are you doing? - Good.
You want me to get that, David? - What's that? - Want me to get that? Alright, Chris, we're gonna see if you can beat us upstairs now.
We got a crew on that.
Alright, that's fine.
- Alright, Hart.
- See ya up there, buddy.
Run up now.
I wanna see you as I get out the elevator.
Come on.
Start with the 911, and then - After the - After the - last headshot, then get the movie ready.
- Right.
- After the third laceration shot.
- Right.
Good morning to each of you.
Good morning.
The core issues are simple, but everything else about this case isn't.
In a very real sense this case is about pretense and appearances.
The defendant says that Kathleen Peterson's death was caused by a tragic, accidental fall down stairs in their home.
And we say, on the other hand, that she died a horrible, painful death at the hands of her husband, Michael Peterson.
I've selected a couple of pictures for you that really, in my mind, show this diametric opposition.
The first photograph I'm going to show you is of Kathleen.
This would have been taken This is how she would have looked prior to December the 9th of 2001, had you seen her in her home or possibly at work.
You can see from this photograph, you can feel from this photograph, that she's a very genteel, warm person.
Now, on December the 9th of 2001, at 2:48, when EMS personnel first arrive, they see Kathleen Peterson in a completely different way.
They see her lying at the bottom of her steps just as you see in this photograph.
Now, later that day, after her body has been removed from the home, she's taken to the medical examiner's office.
This is one of the first photographs taken of her, as she's lying on a steel gurney in the medical examiner's office after they've shaved her head so that they can determine where the wounds are.
This is where the rubber meets the road, ladies and gentlemen.
They say it's an accident that was caused by a couple of falls in that stairway, and we say it's not.
We say it's murder.
You heard Mr.
Rudolf talk with you about the fact that we didn't have a weapon.
That's true.
We don't have the actual implement that Mike Peterson used to cause this injury.
Wounding, lacerations to the back of Kathleen's head.
But we have an identical replica.
Where did we get it? Kathleen's sister, Candice, gave several family members a blow poke just like this one.
Kathleen had had this in her home for years and years, but mysteriously, on December the 9th, It's gone.
It's hollow.
It's light.
It's easily used.
And we will contend to you, this, or something like this, is the article that was used to inflict these wounds.
The blow poker that had been given to Kathleen 15 years before, apparently, and it was now "mysteriously missing.
" We'll hear about whether it's "mysterious" or not.
They didn't find any murder weapon.
Nothing was found.
Where did it go? Where did this blow poker go? They searched his cars.
There wasn't any blood in the cars.
They went all around the house.
There wasn't any blood upstairs.
He didn't change his clothes.
He didn't Where did he get rid of it? And when? That's left "mysterious.
" But we don't convict people based on "mysterious" here.
I mean, can you imagine somebody beating somebody over the head, whacking them as hard as they can, 'cause you don't wack somebody like this, when you're trying to kill them.
Imagine that there's no skull fracture.
There's no brain contusions.
There's no swelling of the brain.
There's none of the internal hemorrhages, subdurals, things like that that you would see from that kind of injury.
None of them.
We intend to show you during this trial, to the best of our ability, what happened in that stairway on December 9th was a tragic accident.
An accident that left Michael Peterson, Not wealthy man, but a very poor man, in the thing that was most important to him.
It left him without his soulmate.
Kathleen and Michael connected in a way that a few people, who are really, really lucky in life have a chance to connect, and they built a family.
The two of them built a family out of the strands of their prior families.
Todd on the left, Kathleen and Michael, Margaret peeking out from the back there, Caitlin in the front, Clayton, and Martha.
What kept them together, what caused them to build that, was a love that absolutely everyone who saw them or knew them understood, and recognized, and envied.
Listen to how Caitlin Atwater, who unfortunately now sits on opposite sides, and that's one of the real tragedies of this case.
Listen to how she described what Michael Peterson meant to her mother.
This is from 1999.
"Michael Peterson stopped my mother's tears.
I used to sit at the top of the stairs, leaning through the banister, and listen to my mother sob every night for a year after my father left.
My father had torn her apart, crushing her shell and the illusion in which she lived, destroying her dignity and pride.
But Mike was able to restore her strength and confidence, and to show her that she could find true love.
From the beginning, I was in debt to Mike, in my heart and mind, for bringing back my mother's happiness.
" You know, if the prosecution is correct, how do we go from soulmate and lover to cold blooded murderer? How does that happen? Well, the answer is very simple.
You don't.
The truth is that Kathleen Peterson, after drinking some wine and some champagne, and taking some Valium, tried to walk up a narrow, poorly-lit stairway in flip-flops, and she fell, and she bled to death.
What Michael Peterson brought to Kathleen Peterson was true happiness over 13 years.
That's the picture, that's not posed.
That's Kathleen sitting on Michael's lap, and what you see there is the happiness that she felt with him, and that he felt with her.
Everyone who really knew that relationship, everyone who knew them knew that they loved each other.
Everyone who knew them knows that Michael Peterson had nothing to do with the death of Kathleen Peterson.
And at the end of all the evidence, I'm gonna ask the 12 of you to come back and return a verdict that will, in fact, speak the truth in this case: A verdict of "not guilty.
" Thank you.
Members of the jury, we're going to take our lunch break at this point.
Deputy, 1:30.
All stand.
Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir.
The Superior Court, County of Durham in recess until 1:30 this afternoon.
God save the State and this honorable Court.