The Staircase (2004) s01e11 Episode Script

Looking for Closure

Live from Raleigh, WRAL News in High Definition starts right now.
Since the first phone call was made back in 2001, that's when Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of the couple's staircase at their home in Durham.
Two years later, Mike Peterson was convicted of murder.
And for the next few years, he served time in prisons around the state, and then he was released from prison.
At the time he was, it was done so because the judge had ordered a new trial.
And at that time, he was ordered to wear an ankle bracelet and remain on house arrest in Durham.
But all of that changed today, and WRAL's Julia Sims joins us live from Durham with the reasons why.
 Julia? David, Mike Peterson wore that ankle bracelet for 937 days about two and a half years.
It was taken off shortly after he walked out of court today, but not before Kathleen Peterson's sisters put up a fight.
Defense attorneys asked the judge to change Peterson's bond conditions.
A pre-trial supervisor testified that nearly three years of the electronic bracelet was unheard of.
I don't believe that we've had anyone on electronic monitoring this long.
Kathleen Peterson's sisters pleaded with the judge.
They called him a flight risk.
Because he knows what prison tastes like, smells like, feels like.
He knows what his life will be like there.
And I am sure he is I don't know this for a fact, but I'm sure he's got to be saying, "I'm never going back there.
" I find him a very dangerous man.
He's been a proven danger to my family, I've lost one sister.
I don't want to lose another.
This monitoring is the only way we get peace and some semblance of security at night.
The judge agreed with Peterson's attorneys, releasing him from house arrest, doing away with the ankle monitor.
He ordered the 70-year-old to stay away from his late wife's family.
Peterson's attorney said the decision was a long time coming.
We look forward to a day, not in the distant future, when Michael will be exonerated completely.
When I got out, I would sit here by myself, and because I had all this new room that I didn't have before.
I could walk from room to room, and I could do what I want.
And everything It was so emotionally powerful, I would cry over anything, music! I remember once, when Patty and I when to a ballet, and it was they were dancing to Bach.
Or maybe it was Verdi.
In any case, I was crying and Thank God it was dark.
And I realized everything was making me cry.
And so I went to see the head psychiatrist of the VA, and he says, "Well, what do you want me to do?" And I said, "Well, I want you to unfuck my head! I I don't know what's wrong with me!" He said, "Are you suicidal?" I said, "No.
" He said, "Are you depressed?" I said, "No, I don't think so.
" He said, "Well, I don't know what I can do.
" He said, "Maybe you should join a group.
" Group.
Grief.
A group for anger.
And I said, "No.
" No, I was I spent eight years in a group of anger, a group of, uh grief.
All these guys, hundreds of them.
I don't need that.
He said, "Well, what's the problem?" I said, "I'm crying all the time.
" And he said, "Well, go ahead and cry.
" And I I was really pissed.
I really was angry.
And I said, "Well, thanks.
" And I got up and walked out.
And for about two days I was thinking, "What an asshole.
" Uh, and then I realized he was right! That was it.
That was all I needed, that would be my catharsis.
And crying for not so much what I had lost, which was, you know, my father, you know, I couldn't I missed all my kids' marriages and graduations, but also the idea that I would never have any of that back.
And then suddenly, it came back.
There was art, and there was beauty, there was music, and there were my children, there was love.
And all of that just swept over me.
And I realized that there was a two-part thing: what I lost, but also what I had regained.
And so, yeah, I still cry all the time.
Silly little things will just make you know, get me to tear up.
And, um that didn't happen after Vietnam.
But then Vietnam was just one year.
This was eight years.
And much more much more intense.
War, as everybody knows, or says, it's 90 percent boredom, and then ten percent action and terror.
And that's, uh, prison is a little bit a higher percentage of action and terror.
Mr.
Peterson is indigent.
He can't afford to hire his own counselor as regard to this, so we'd ask the Court to set the wheels in motion so that counsel can be appointed for him.
I've spoken with Mr.
Maher about that and I'm gonna remain involved in the case in one capacity or another, but I think for purposes of moving the case along, we should probably have that process started at this point.
- That motion is allowed.
- Thank you.
Do you solemny swear the answers that you've given on this information is true and correct to the best of your knowledge? I do.
Your Honor, Mr.
Peterson has filled out and sworn to the affidavit.
And, uh, may we be excused? Going down.
Second floor.
But wouldn't it be more efficient and cost effective for the State if you were that court? I think that would be a fair uh, a fair assumption.
I know a lot about the case.
I've been through it once, so But that's that's something that will be up to Tom Maher and I'm certainly not gonna try to interfere with that process.
If you chose that direction, that option is open? I could do that, yeah.
The case never made sense to me.
Michael has been absolutely, uh, insistent from the day I met him that he had absolutely nothing to do with this and I believe that that's the case.
I do not believe that Michael Peterson had anything to do with Kathleen Peterson's death.
Are you trying to work on a plea? I understand you are.
You've been talking.
Well, I think, in any case, you always explore the alternatives before you throw down the gauntlet, and, uh, and go back to trial.
So I think it would only be reasonable for everybody to sort of sit back and reassess where we are and where things should go.
Um And that's just a sort of normal process.
- Thank you.
- Okay.
- Thank you.
- See you guys.
Whether or not the case will be resolved by a plea agreement, we don't know that yet.
I took office as District Attorney in Durham County, North Carolina on September 1, 2014, which is not quite two weeks ago.
The court system or justice system has has been put to work greatly in this particular case, and I don't know that, um, there's there's a failure, um, of the system because it's it's not over.
Um, it may be a sign that the that the system is working because it's affording the defendant every right.
Anytime you have a serious case, particularly a case where you speaking to a family and their loved one or or good friend, sometimes both, of course, many most times, both, has been killed.
You know, we're talking about parents, children, siblings.
Um That family really wants really wants justice.
We can't expect Roger Echols as the new DA to come in and I told Michael this and say, "We're sorry, you should have never been prosecuted.
I don't know what Jim Hardin, our Resident Superior Court Judge was thinking, um, and we're not gonna proceed with this case.
" I mean, that if that was the alternative available to him, then he would commit the resources that he needed and he'd rather let a jury take the heat by finding Michael not guilty.
So, you know, Michael's, um Michael's wishes, uh, just didn't comport with reality, with what happens in the real world.
And so what I said to him was, "Michael, you know, if that's what you want, you know, you're not gonna get that.
So, you know, you're gonna need to find somebody to help you go to trial again, um, because that's the position you're gonna put Roger in.
Uh, and it doesn't make sense to me for you to do that.
You're 71 years old.
You've been through the wringer.
Uh, you know, it's broken you financially, it's broken you health-wise.
I mean, he looks like a completely different person uh, than he looked like back in 2001.
And not just from natural aging.
I mean, you know Uh, it's sort of shocking when you look back at the video of him during the trial and you look at it now.
Uh, he's he's become a very old man.
Uh In in a decade.
Um, and what's the point? What's that? Wanna play? You're almost there, you're almost there! Come on, come on, come on.
One, two Just jump.
Come on, kid! - I have to pee.
- Off you go.
- Hey, Michael.
- Hey, David, how are you? I'm good.
Sit, sit, sit.
Good.
Are you all right? Well, I don't know.
Tell me, am I all right? I think you're all right.
So Here's where we are.
- The case can be resolved.
- Oh! With my death or something less? Probably something less.
Uh, death would do it, but Hey, it's an option.
I'm thinking, you know.
Um, all right, so First is, you know, what's the charge that will resolve this? - That's one variable.
- Okay.
Uh, second variable is, what's the sentence that would resolve this? Right.
And the third is, what's the nature of what you say in court? You know, and obviously, there are three variables there.
There is the guilty plea, there is the no contest plea, - and there is the Alford plea.
- Okay.
When you do an Alford plea, you actually say - "I'm innocent.
" - No.
What you say is, "I'm pleading guilty, but I am not pleading guilty because I did this.
I'm pleading guilty because I'm 72 years old, I've already served, you know, eight and a half years in prison.
Uh, I went through a five-month trial.
Uh, all of my resources are depleted, I can't go through this again, and so, to put this behind us, I'm entering this plea.
" That's an Alford plea.
I thought Alford was I am pleading guilty because for whatever - I'm 71, by the way.
- Sorry.
It's all right, that's not important.
And, uh but I'm innocent.
But I'm but I'm accepting this - because the prosecution has evidence - Yes, yes.
they could retrial me.
- I could get fucked again - Yes.
uh, in those very words or, uh - But I thought the innocence was up the - You can say that.
No, you know, and you can say that, yeah, no - But you're entering a plea.
- I understand.
It goes on as guilty as "a convicted felon, I am guilty.
" Right, no, I understand that, so I got that.
Okay.
If somebody said to me, "Okay, we are going to retrial you and you are going to go through all this smear again and we'll say all this terrible shit, and all this horrible stuff's gonna happen, gonna happen, gonna happen.
And at the end, you're really found not guilty, and you get to go home and everything will be fine.
" I'd say, "Go ahead, beat me up for the next two years.
I don't give a shit.
Go ahead and say anything you want, I don't care.
" But you and I know that may not be the result of two years of trial.
It could well be, "Oh, well, you're guilty again," and off I go.
Whether it's an Alford plea, a no-contest plea, or a guilty plea, is that to second degree? Or is it to, uh to voluntary manslaughter? Voluntary is a weird sort of crime in North Carolina.
Basically, it's where you have a second-degree situation but the person is acting out of emotion.
So, for example, you walk into a room, you find your wife in bed with another man, uh, you, you know, you lose it, you kill the wife, or the man, or both.
Uh, so, you're acting under the heat of passion.
And I guess voluntary manslaughter could make sense if you believe that whatever Kathleen allegedly found or did - Right.
- you know, created in you, you know, some You know, this is all we're now in the realm of fiction.
- I got that.
It's okay.
I got it.
- Yeah.
- I can go with that.
- Okay.
I'm here to give you the options, but at the end of the day, it's your life, and you need to live it how you wanna live it.
The murder I would really like to avoid at all possibilities.
I would prefer, obviously, manslaughter Oh, God, am I saying this? Manslaughter over murder, um, and I'm not going back to prison.
Right.
And what I say at the end of that, for my own self, in self-respect and self-esteem, for my kids and for everybody else.
I cannot say, "I am guilty of killing Kathleen.
" I just can't do that.
I understand.
So one deal breaker is, if there is any possibility that you'd have to go back in for any amount of time.
- Right.
- Right? Correct.
Second deal breaker is, if you had to say you're pleading guilty because you are guilty.
- Correct.
- Okay.
- All right.
- Okay.
You've gotten shorter.
You keep saying that and it's not true.
Look at this.
- We used to be the same height, right? - That I'm fucking alive is amazing, right? Let me help you with this one.
- All right, Michael.
- Okay, I appreciate it.
- Thank you.
- All right.
Yeah, so after you guys leave, uh Clayton, Becky, Dorian, and Lucian are coming for my birthday next week.
They always come.
Uh, and then they go to the state fair.
And that'll be nice.
I mean, it'll be really nice to have Clayton and Becky and the kids here.
So Yeah, and then, it will be over, I hope, this whole thing.
David! Hey, Michael, how are you? This is my happy birthday call, right? No, this is your Roger Echols call.
I spoke with Roger, uh, yesterday, and despite what I thought was a pretty good chance that we would be able to settle this thing, he will not agree to the resolution that we proposed with the Alford plea.
He spoke with Candace and Lori, and I suppose Caitlin.
Uh, and the family will not agree to anything that does not involve you completely, in essence, accepting responsibility, pleading guilty.
Um you know, not an Alford plea.
Uh, and, uh, he's not gonna go along with it against their wishes.
No Alford plea? Let me see I got this right.
They want me to stand up in court and say, "I'm guilty," right? That's it.
And and he knows that's never going to happen, right? Uh, I told him that right from the start.
So he understands, and what he said to me was, "So I guess we're going to trial.
" And I said, "I guess that's what's gonna happen.
" So, that's where we are, Mike.
But this was pretty much Well, I think you texted me that this was gonna happen, right? You really thought there would be an agreement, a deal on the Alford plea, right? I thought there would be because it's not in Roger Echols' own interest to go to trial.
He sort of indicated that when we spoke last.
Uh, but he's simply not willing to do anything that Kathleen's family will not agree to.
So, and by "Kathleen's family," he's talking about his her sisters and her daughter.
So Candace and Lori are running this show, not Roger Echols, right? Well, essentially.
At least, as far as this goes.
So, listen, we need to talk, because as I told you before I was happy to try to negotiate a resolution to this thing, uh, but if that's not gonna happen, you know, I told you, I just can't retry this case.
Uh, and so, I want to I want to, uh Bail! - Hello? - Yeah, I said you wanna bail out of this.
Uh No, no, I don't want to bail out of this but, you know, I told you that I just couldn't take on this trial again.
Uh, not after all these years.
And I'm now in Charlotte, you know, I'm just in a different place.
So Uh, I've spoken to a lawyer by the name of Mike Klinkosum.
He's in Raleigh.
He's a very, very fine lawyer.
Uh, he is the person who got Greg Taylor out.
Um, as for me, I just can't commit to doing another one of these trials.
Okay, um And the reason being because Why? Because the last one was crushing, uh, as you know.
Um, not just for you and your family, but for me.
Uh, and I succeeded in what my goal has been for the last ten years, which was to get you a new trial.
Um And, uh um, um I'm just exhausted with the pressure of this case.
Uh, and I just think for everybody's sake, uh, a new set of eyes is probably a good idea.
And I can't get you to change your mind? I don't think so, Mike.
I mean, I've thought about this a lot.
Uh I just thought we'd be able to settle it and we're not.
And best case, uh, this might go on for a couple more years, right? I would say yeah, a year and half to two years.
A minimum of a year, you know, somewhere between a year and two years.
Okay, David, all right.
Um I'm gonna have Mike Klinkosum call you.
Uh, please meet with him.
Uh, ask him as much as you want to ask him.
Uh You know, get a feel for him, and then let's you and I talk.
Okay.
- All right, David, okay.
- All right? Okay.
- Bye-bye.
- Bye.
Fuck! Oh, shit! It's 2014, October, and I'm back basically to When Kathleen died.
We're starting all over again.
Pfft I wonder if I'll live that long.
I think that's their plan, basically, is they hope I'm gonna die before this damn thing comes to an end.
But guess what? I'm not, so Well, I get it.
I can't do anything about it.
I understand.
I do understand David, uh But I just thought I mean, my God, we could end this today.
You know, "Hey, okay, Mike is going to take a felony conviction.
All he asks is he doesn't have to stand up in court and say, "I killed Kathleen.
" Because I didn't.
And I never am going to say that.
Ever, ever, ever.
So we go to trial.
We're back from the to the beginning.
That's it.
Mike Klinkosum did just a tremendous job gathering new information, finding things that had been overlooked, let's say, in the original case.
Now we find out that all the evidence was contaminated.
The bags were ripped open.
I have no idea who did it, I don't know why they did it, or maybe just What? Uh, incompetence, no idea.
But what it does is prevents any testing now.
And then Mike found out that Kathleen's clothes were never tested.
There was no DNA testing on her clothing at all.
That was for Mike, a major, major discovery.
So, Mike said, "There needs to be a dismissal.
" And I would very much like I'd like to go back to trial! Uh, to be exonerated, uh, for a total not-guilty plea to come in.
Let the jury hear the real evidence, let it happen now without the lies, the perjury, the contamination.
But I don't think that can happen.
So I think the best that's going to happen is that the district attorney will agree to dismiss it.
And that will be the end of it for me.
Except, of course there will still be no exoneration.
There will be no "not guilty.
" Hi! Hey, it's nice to see you.
Okay, nice to see you and Yep.
The only thing they have to try to prove your guilt is Kathleen's body.
Right.
- The clothing - Right.
- And blood spatter.
- Right.
They don't have fingerprints, they don't have anything.
- Right.
- It's totally and grossly circumstantial.
Right.
The police went in with a predetermined conclusion Right.
- that you must have killed her.
- Right.
And when Kathleen's clothes weren't tested for other DNA Right.
it makes the condition of the evidence absolutely critical.
Right.
We went to the clerk's office, and we had Jim and Kelly with us.
There was so many boxes there.
- Mm-hmm.
- We went through these boxes Mm-hmm.
and we discovered these bags that were ripped open.
- This is the Peterson case.
- Mm-hm.
You see where it's ripped there.
This box contains a pair of tennis shoes and some type of sweatshirt, garment, or something, just as you open the box.
And that one's marked "biohazard" that's wide open? - Yeah, wide open.
- There's your biohazard.
And, uh They're in a box, just thrown in there.
Some kind of hazard sticker on there, okay.
Here's another view of that.
Now a close-up.
Now, here's another close-up of the shoes.
Here's another bag, it's identified as, of course, the Peterson case.
- Right there on that - Gray sweatpants.
Purple sweatshirt.
What was shown in this photograph here is not necessarily the shoes, but this blue garment, which is under the shoes, and it's not protected in a bag or anything, it's just thrown in there, and then the shoes are over the top of it.
- Like, there it is in the box.
- Mm-hmm.
Here's a close-up, and you can see What we think might be blood? Well, it's blood, or dirt, or some type of debris on the front of it in this area right here.
Uh-huh.
Right here, you can see that.
P-D-D-P-O.
And here's another bag that's been ripped open, and opened, and opened, and opened.
A ton of times.
Item six, that's probably the shoes.
So, we have X items that have been opened and not resealed.
We have one or two cases intermingled in this box.
There is some speculation right now that the boxes that we saw all the evidence in were not the original storage boxes, that they may have been moving boxes, not evidence boxes.
So, who knows? They had movers there.
The boxes may have been in poor condition, the movers may have put them in.
Which may have been why we have evidence from another case thrown in there.
Because I certainly doubt that the movers would have known or understood the importance of keeping all of the evidence.
It's really not our job to have to even prove - how she died or who did it.
- Right.
But if there is some type of exculpatory evidence on that clothing, it should have been found out.
It wasn't.
- [We want to find out.
We can't.
- Right.
Right.
- Okay! I will go, all right.
- Okay.
Thank you.
- Jim - Thank you, Michael.
- I will see you? Monday! - Monday.
- All right, bye-bye.
- Bye.
Drive safely.
- See you Monday.
Thank you.
- Have a great weekend.
I mean, I have no experience in law.
There's nothing that I can help out with other than my presence to you is one thing that I felt and so So that's why I'm here.
I'm here to support Dad and to be here and to hopefully see some resolution soon.
Is this where we all cry together? - I am so emotional.
- Me too, dear.
You are! I know, I know.
- I know.
- I have been crying for a week.
Really? I've been so emotional this week, yeah.
I think it's that I have a lot of friends that are therapists, and they're like, "How are you doing?" I'm like, "Ah! I'm so anxious.
" Yeah, yeah.
Yeah.
Yeah.
I had spent so much time, like you suppressing emotions, and now, I am like, "Oh!" - It's just all coming out.
- I it's just coming out, yeah.
- Yeah.
Yeah.
Yeah.
- Yeah.
I don't know what's it gonna be like if when this really ends - Oh, my gosh, yeah.
- Yeah.
I used to suffer a lot from really bad nightmares, I used to have really bad panic attacks in public spaces because of being in the trial.
My body and my whole nervous system will think that something like the trial is happening or um, that, you know, if I'm losing a friend, I feel like I'm losing, like, you know, the death of one of my parents, or something like that will come up.
Um, and I have to say, "Okay, no.
That was in the past, I'm in the present.
Look at me, it's 2016, you know.
" And just reorient myself to the present.
So those are all the things that I've had to work on, in order to just be more whole, and have less suffering on a daily basis, I guess.
I found out that Margaret used to have panic attacks.
- Yeah.
- She couldn't go over a bridge.
I don't think I've ever had a panic attack.
What is it? Um, it's this feeling that your lungs get really tight - um, your heart beats - It just comes on suddenly? Yeah.
And it feels different for each person, but for me, it's like your heart beats faster.
I can't breathe and I worry that I'm gonna pass out, and I'm really on the close Like, I almost pass out.
So when Margaret had hers, - I mean, I was in prison.
- Yeah.
And you think hers was as a result of the trial? - Yeah.
Yeah.
- Absolutely.
I went on this backpacking trip, um, to a place that was above the Rocky Mountain National Park where it was, like, the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life, And we just, like, went over to the summit.
And you just saw the whole mountain range on both sides.
And I just started It was so profound, um I just started crying.
And for some reason, all I could think about was Mom.
And it was like just beautiful that I could have that moment of, like, pure grief for her without all the other stuff mixed up.
I know this is really big, but like, without all the, you know, the trial mess mixed into it, and the newspapers, and stuff like that.
And it was just like pure memory.
- Yeah.
- And pure like It was so beautiful, I couldn't stop crying for like an hour.
We're now to a certain extent back to square one in the sense that we're trying to make sense of what the physical evidence is, and what you can tell from the physical evidence.
Now I know, and I didn't know this at the time, uh, that Susie Barker, who is the person who does the little victory dance during Deaver's "experiments" when he gets something to work the way he wanted it to work, that Susie Barker actually changed what the SBI was supposed to be doing with the physical evidence.
When it came to the SBI, they were supposed to be doing DNA testing.
Susie Barker crossed that out, and instead said, "Send it to Deaver, blood spatter.
" Now, that had to be at Deaver's request.
That had I mean, that was after Deaver got involved, it was after Deaver had been in the house, it was after Deaver had come to the conclusion that it was a homicide that had been committed by Michael.
Well, now, Deaver didn't want any DNA testing done because that could totally screw up his theory.
So, he has Susie Barker change what's gonna be done so that it comes to him.
And now he's in total control, and he does his ridiculous experiments, and he comes into court and commits perjury, and Michael Peterson goes to prison.
And that piece of evidence that Susie Barker and Deaver had gotten together and switched where the case was going, I think would have been incredibly important during the original trial, and that was withheld from us.
Mm-hmm.
If the State had done their job and done the DNA analysis on Kathleen's clothing to begin with, we wouldn't be here.
If the State had had an expert witness who was reliable and truthful, we wouldn't be here.
But we are where we are, and they don't have a case, and we can't proceed.
You know, it doesn't make any difference how we got to this point.
- We're at that point.
Right.
- Right.
Right.
We have to show that the evidence can't be tested, and we have to show that Kathleen's clothing - Was not tested.
Was not tested.
- was not tested.
- I know Deaver had his mind made up.
- Yeah.
They didn't want anything to interfere with the case that they had.
- Right.
- Right.
Yeah, makes sense to me.
The foolishness of their approach was, if the clothing had only shown yours and Kathleen's DNA, that made their case stronger.
Right.
Would have rolled out any intruder, or anybody else, exactly.
- Right.
- Right.
But they did not want to run the risk of finding somebody else's DNA there.
Right.
- Okay.
- And here we are.
It has been more stressful than I expected it would be.
- Mm-hmm.
- All of this.
I was going to ask how you - were doing? - The closer I get, the more You know, as long as it's out there, it's not too bad, "Well, I can do this.
" But then, the closer you get to something, it's like, "Oh Wait a minute.
" This It's because it's been so long.
Oh, my God! - It has.
Fifteen years? - Mm-hmm.
Almost 15 years since Kathleen died.
Almost.
I have been free for almost five years.
Not completely, but relatively free, but this hanging over my head.
And now it does look like we're coming to an end.
And that's what's making me nervous.
Yeah, uh, it really is my life.
It's not a life that's being created, or governed, or dictated to me by others.
It can be my life again.
But I can't get back all that happened before.
And that's beginning to bother me a little bit, where it didn't It hasn't, because I didn't think about it.
But now I look at my children and they're they're not 18 years old in college.
Now they're grown women, they're grown men.
Uh, I look at my brothers, uh and we're all old.
And what happened? Where was I? Well, I know where I was, but, um I didn't wanna be there.
- Who's in my room? - Okay, okay.
- Who's in my room? - Okay, okay, I'll get out! Okay, come on.
Let's go to the pool.
Let's go to the pool.
Go to the other room.
Here he comes! Oh, which one should I get? My brother! - You want me to get your brother? - Yes! - Who should I get? - Dorian! Dorian! I'm gonna get you.
I'm gonna get you.
- Okay, who should I get? - Get Dorian.
You want me to get Dorian? Well, let's go get him! - Let's go get him! - Okay.
Who will I get? Let's get Let's get Lucian! - Get out! - Let's get Lucian.
Please go this way! Good morning, everybody! Oh.
Okay.
Now, Kathleen died 15 years ago.
And this has been going on forever.
- Eight, seven, nine.
- Okay.
If I start floundering.
Hey, Michael, you doing all right? I am.
I am.
- What is it? - That's Marines - That's what we do.
- Oh, jeez.
Where were you, David? I was, uh, I was in school, obviously.
- Oh! - You see? Hey.
My Vietnam was trying to avoid STDs, you know? - Did you win? - No! All rise.
Oh, yes.
The honorable Superior Court of the County of Durham is now open and sitting for the dispatch of its business.
The Honorable Orlando F.
Hudson Junior Judge presiding.
God save the State and this honorable court.
- All right.
- I call Timothy Palmbach to the stand, please.
In the top rear portion of the box is a wide-open bag containing the gray sweatpants from, uh, Kathleen Peterson.
But it's completely open across the entire front of it, so you have blood, and urine, and major areas of the, uh of this particular pair of sweatpants that are exposed.
In addition to that, directly below that is another bag which is torn, uh, in half, such that there's a pair of white sneakers that the entire back half of the, uh, the sneakers is now completely exposed.
Um, and these are fully consistent with Michael Peterson's sneakers.
It's not just evidence, it's critical evidence very relevant to, uh to our analysis in this case.
Why? Because some of the theories that were offered in this case would suggest that the victim was succumbed to a beating-type death.
In that bases of theories, one is gonna expect contact between the assailant and Kathleen Peterson, and in a contact, one should expect a transfer of small amounts or trace amounts of DNA.
And so, all efforts have to be in place to protect against the cross-contamination, so that at some point, if necessary, the testing could be done to identify that traced DNA.
Okay.
Can evidence that was stored, such as those sweatpants, can they be analyzed for DNA? Pragmatically, could you swab it and go do DNA test? Certainly.
Uh, would the results be reliable in any fashion? No.
And so can Kathleen Peterson's clothing be analyzed today, to determine whose DNA is on her clothing? And can a reliable result be obtained? Yes, you could do it.
No, you would not have a reliable result.
Okay.
Your Honor, at this time, um, I would like to show the witness a video.
Could you please describe what we observe Mr.
George doing before he starts taking the item out of the bag? Yes, he put on vinyl gloves.
I just ask you to pay attention to Mr.
Rudolf.
- Do you see any gloves on his hand? - No, sir.
Is this appropriate manner to handle evidence that may contain - biological evidence? - Not ideal.
In fact, it could result in contamination from Mr.
Rudolf, correct? It could.
They had been left on a window ledge, right? That's correct.
Now, of course, the window ledge wasn't that wide, was it? Do you recognize those as being the shorts that were retrieved - from Mr.
Michael Peterson? - Yes, I do.
These weren't collected until 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning? They were not collected by myself until that time.
And where they were left in the meantime was and put them on a window ledge.
Mr.
Rudolf ran his hand all the way down on the side of the pants? Yes, he did.
And where is he placing that item? Back on the witness stand.
- And there's no paper down there at all? - No.
You don't know who touched that area previously, that being on the witness stand, do you? No.
You don't know if someone went by and coughed on it before court began or during the break, do you? No.
You don't know if somebody sneezed on it, do you? No.
Putting his hands, palms right down on the evidence, is that an appropriate manner of handling evidence in court? Again, not ideal.
And that could subject that evidence to contamination? Possible.
And based on what you saw, you did have a theory as relates to what occurred within that stairwell, is that correct? It's not a singular theory, but the theory embraced, um, the two scenarios.
One would be, was the evidence consistent with Kathleen being beaten to death in the stairwell with the blow poke? And our opinion on that was no.
And the other theory was, was the evidence consistent with her sustaining injuries falling within the stairwell, um, and moving about for a period of time until she expired? The answer to that was yes.
And DNA evidence would not tell you or assist you in determining how the fall occurred, is that right? The dynamics of the fall is really the orientations of where the injuries were relevant to a surface area that could attribute them.
And DNA evidence wasn't necessary to do that.
Okay.
So the DNA would not, in any way, assist you in determining whether or not it was a push, if there was a fall.
Isn't that correct? There was not an additional theory that a third party was engaged in a physical confrontation with her in the stairwell.
And and, therefore, we didn't evaluate for that.
Neither you nor Dr.
Lee requested any type of DNA testing, - is that correct? - That's correct.
Thank you.
No further questions.
You're welcome.
You and Dr.
Lee did not request DNA testing.
- Correct? - Correct.
Was that your place in the course of the representation of Mr.
Peterson? I don't believe so.
If the DNA analysis had been done immediately after Kathleen Peterson died, - would that have been best practice? - Yes.
Would there had been the questions about whether there was contamination in the courtroom during the trial? You still can raise a point, but it wouldn't have had the same outcome.
And that is why? Because we would have had the test results that we could rely on.
And ultimately, even how the evidence was stored after trial would not have been an issue if the State had done the DNA analysis of Kathleen Peterson's clothing at the time she died? - Correct.
- Very well.
Is it possible to get new DNA evidence in this case, at this point in time, with the evidence in the condition it's in? - No.
- No further questions.
Do you still stand by your report? Yes, I do.
DNA evidence would not affect your opinion regarding whether or not there was a fall? - Correct.
- Thank you.
I have no further questions of this witness, Your Honor.
Why don't we take our lunch break, uh, now.
Let's come back at 2:30.