The Staircase (2004) s01e13 Episode Script

Flawed Justice

So, Michael, let me ask you.
Why are you doing it now? If you're What I guess, why would a person who's innocent take a plea, even if it is an Alford plea? And that's a long question.
I'll give you a long answer.
Uh Deaver is gone, but that atmosphere, that culture of doing anything possible to convict someone is still there.
Fifteen years ago, I believed absolutely, if the police arrested somebody, you know, a rich white guy, that person must be guilty.
If they shot somebody, always justified.
Nobody believes that anymore.
We now know that the police and district attorneys will do anything to convict a person.
And once they've done that, they are never going to back up.
They lied once "Let me try it again.
Let me trust these people who put me away, let me trust the SBI, let me trust the police law enforcement, let me trust the DI.
" No, I'm not about to do that, because I don't believe they would play fair.
And then we find that Freda Black writes a note that says Deborah Radisch, the medical examiner, told her that she did not initially believe that it was blunt force trauma that was the cause of death, but that she had to put that in there because John Butts, who was the chief medical examiner at the time, told her to, in essence.
So there's that note.
And then we find a fax from Candace Zamperini to Deborah Radisch, thanking her for explaining why Michael was guilty.
Mm-hmm.
And you put all that together and I think the bottom line from Michael was he could not put his faith in that system again.
You know, he put his faith there once, and he was convicted and spent eight years in prison.
Hadn't it been for Greg Taylor, I'd probably still be in prison.
Greg Taylor Takayama test.
Right.
When it finally came out that Duane Deaver had falsified or withheld evidence, whatever, then it turned to me.
And in my And in my case, he didn't withhold evidence like he did in Greg Taylor's case.
He invented evidence.
What role do you think bisexuality and the testimony about Elizabeth Ratliff Oh, just more mud, sure! Anything, just throw that up.
Uh I think the bisexuality probably, whether anybody wanted to admit it Well, my God, there's Freda Black, "Pure-T filth!" screaming about it.
Of course that had to have an impact.
Why does that translate into murder? I mean, that makes no sense at all.
But it certainly would "Oh! Oh, my God.
" There it is in the juror's head.
I think one of the reasons they were able to get in the bisexuality is because of the description of the idyllic marriage.
- Do you regret saying that? - That was the truth! They They had the kind of marriage that everybody wants to have.
We interviewed dozens of their friends.
Dozens! And every one of them said the same thing.
"They got along great.
They never argued.
" "They were like two peas in a pod.
" I mean, couple after couple after couple after couple said the same things.
Okay, I have friends who would disagree that you have the idyllic marriage - if one of the partners - Sure.
wants to have relationships, or whatever word you choose to use, 'cause I know you have problems with the words "relationships" and "affairs," outside the marriage.
- Regardless - I understand.
of the sex of the other person, right? Your wife knew about those things and was comfortable? - I think she was comfortable with it.
- Mm-hmm.
Yeah, absolutely.
- Did y'all talk about it? - Not really.
Not really.
It was sort of in an oblique type of way.
We had just this closeness.
She'd come home and I could hear her footsteps.
Knowing where she's going.
She's going to the refrigerator to get a drink, or get some wine.
I can hear her all the time.
I I can.
I can.
I, uh I think about her all the time.
All the time, as I know Candace does and I know Lori does.
As Margaret and Martha do As as we do, you see? You know, everybody keeps talking, "Oh, Kathleen's lost in this tragedy.
" No, she is not! We all think of her all the time.
She's as alive We all think about her.
She's just part of us.
God! Mm.
And I told you that.
That would have been fun, almost, to discuss that, my sexuality.
And I wonder, "What would she have said?" Right? I don't know.
I don't know.
She would have She would have made it right.
I was lying about certain things.
I had to.
I mean it was part of who I was trying not to reveal.
Well, you get to a certain point.
"Well, what's the point?" Come on.
You know, let's be honest here.
And it was the short stop on my baseball team.
I used to play baseball.
I was catcher, sometimes I was the pitcher, And I was you know, really confused.
You know, what's what's this all about? I had never, before that time, ever had a male-male thought as far as I realized.
Never did.
And then suddenly he was there in that fantasy along with Melanie.
And I was very confused by that, but it didn't take me But it didn't go away from my fantasies.
We played on the ball team and, you know And I realized at that time I had felt a great attraction for females, but for guys also.
It was just there.
Where did it come from? I have no idea.
Well, my God, this was 1954, 1955.
60 years ago.
That was not going to happen.
Certainly not on a military base, you know, athletics.
It just didn't It was not a possibility.
I wasn't brave enough to say, "Oh, fuck you! This is how I am.
" You didn't do that in 1950s, uh America.
They finally evolved to "Don't ask, don't tell.
" But when I was growing up, it was a simple matter of "Don't!" And I lived by that rule.
And so it was just suppressed there.
Never went away and never As I got older, it never was a matter of, "Oh, I'm going to go to hell.
It's awful, it's terrible.
" It's mostly terrible in the eyes of other people.
It's terrible in the eyes of society.
It's terrible how people would view me, not how I really felt.
So I really gave into this, let's say, peer pressure.
I didn't think God was gonna punish me.
Well, I've given up that thought a long time ago.
It was just something that I had hidden, and it stayed hidden.
That's all.
In the beginning, from guilt, and then just because it was a part of my life.
I had suppressed it and kept it hidden for so long that it was just a pattern of my life.
Could I have fallen in love with a guy had I opened myself up to that? I think now, no, but I It's possible.
But my life would have been completely different.
I would have certainly never been in the Marines, never would have written the books I wrote.
Never would have had my sons.
Uh It would have just been a completely different life, one I cannot even imagine.
I don't know.
I have never talked to a soul about it.
This is the first time I've ever even remotely touched on it.
Uh and it's okay.
It takes you a long time to get to that point.
That's who I am.
But when you live that so long "Oh, this is who I am.
" To make that leap is very difficult.
And I didn't make that leap with Kathleen.
Yeah, it would have been better.
I probably wasn't that comfortable with it.
I couldn't have been that comfortable with it because I was hiding it.
No getting around that one.
And I'm sure that I felt guilty, uh But it's like when you get away with something, you keep getting away with it, and then it becomes, "Oh, it's all right.
" You see.
Going up.
Good morning.
- How you feeling today? - Good.
Good.
Okay, I got that.
All right.
Oh, good.
I get to go in.
Perfect.
Good morning, Michael.
- Did you see Candace? - No.
- Oh, my God.
- What's she doing? Oh, she insulted my suit.
- She told me - Should have worn that dress.
She told me to get a new suit because I look poor.
Oh, my God.
And she said, she started, "Oh, pleading guilty.
" I said, "No.
Actually, we're not pleading guilty.
" "Alford schmal-ford.
" God, that woman.
What I found out today from Tommy and Stu is that in June of 2002, - when they searched your house - Right.
- they went down to the boiler room - Right.
and they found the blow poke.
- Which they thought was a coat hanger.
- Hold on.
- It gets better.
- Oh.
They took it outside.
Campen and Dan George were there.
- They photographed it - Oh, my God.
with one of them holding it.
- We never got that photograph.
- Is it too late to change all of this? Come on.
Oh, Christ.
They photographed it and it was Campen and George.
So, they knew back in June of 2002 that this whole blow poke theory was bullshit.
And they got on the witness stand.
And that picture never got given to us.
Never.
Well, is it possible to retrieve it now? - The photo? - Yeah.
- Oh, I'm sure it's gone.
- I'm sure that's gone.
All right.
How are you doing? So Listen.
He's gonna read this.
"Do you understand you are pleading guilty pursuant to Alford?" guilty pursuant to Alford.
"Are you going to plead guilty pursuant to Alford?" That was the deal.
"Defendant pleads guilty pursuant to Alford.
" Now I can get the three? And take them back? Yeah.
Yeah, we'll come back.
I wanna show him these.
"You understand that filing a plea of guilty pursuant to Alford" - OK, I can see that.
- And you understand that may impact - Okay, I agree.
- Okay.
- I'll go make copies.
- Okay.
Thank you very much.
Oyez, oyez.
The Superior Court of of Durham now sitting for the dispatch of business.
Honorable Judge Orlando F.
Hudson, Jr.
presiding.
God save the state and court.
You may be seated.
- Good morning, Your Honor.
- Good morning.
Your Honor, at this time, we're here to address how Mr.
Peterson pleads to the charge of voluntary manslaughter.
All right.
All right, Miss Clerk, you can swear the defendant.
Do you solemnly swear the answers to questions that the court shall ask you are true and accurate to the valid of your knowledge, so help you God? - I do.
- Be seated.
Mr.
DA, is there a factual basis from the state? Yes, Your Honor.
In December 9, 2001, 911 received a call at approximately 2:40 am from the defendant indicating the condition of his wife at their Cedar Street address here on Durham, North Carolina.
Within seven to eight minutes, paramedics had arrived.
At that time, his son Todd was just arriving as well.
Upon entry, they viewed Kathleen Peterson.
She was prone on the floor near the bottom of the staircase.
There was a significant amount of what appeared to be blood about her person.
There was no pulse, nor was she breathing at that time.
And some of the blood had already started to clot and was dried around her person.
There's no evidence that there was any other individuals present within the household in the time frame the defendant was present as well as his wife, suffered of injuries that resulted in her death.
Kathleen Peterson was examined by Dr.
Radisch with the medical examiner's office and autopsy.
The autopsy indicated that there were seven lacerations to the head.
There was also injury to the neck, which was a fracture with associated hemorrhage of the superior cornu of the left thyroid cartilage.
Dr.
Radisch did indicate that her opinion that the injury to the neck was consistent with strangulation and also that the injuries were not consistent with a fall, but rather with a beating.
Anything else to the factual basis from the defense? Yes, sir, Your Honor.
Your Honor, you sat through a four-month trial at which we disputed every single one of the facts that Mr.
Dornfried just articulated.
And this court has already found that Mr.
Deaver committed perjury at Mr.
Peterson's trial.
As for Deborah Radisch, we found a note within the last two months, which indicated that contrary to her testimony, which indicated that the cause of death was blunt force trauma In fact, she believed the cause of death was the loss of blood, which is exactly what we posited as the cause of death, although that's not what she testified to.
Finally, with regard to her testimony about blows to the head, she held up a blow poke, she was shown a blow poke.
And she testified, "Oh, yes, this is consistent with the injuries that we saw.
" Of course thereafter, as Your Honor well knows, that blow poke was found in the garage of Mr.
Peterson's house.
Your Honor, I was actually present when it was found and photographed with cobwebs, and it was subsequently introduced into evidence.
I found out in the last two days that, in fact, that blow poke had been found by the police in June of 2002, before Miss Zamperini came in with her theory that the blow poke was the murder weapon.
And in fact, they took it out, photographed it with Dan George and Eric Campen, the two crime scene techs, and then put it back not where they had gotten it, but rather where we found it a year later with cobwebs.
Dan George and Eric Campen both testified at Mr.
Peterson's trial.
They never said a word, although they obviously knew what the prosecution's theory was.
That they had found that blow poke a year and a half earlier.
Mr.
Peterson is not guilty.
He never was guilty.
He's not admitting that he was guilty in this.
He is entering this plea because based on all of those circumstances, including Mr.
Deaver's being all over the scene of the house, he does not feel, number one, that he got a fair trial, based not on Your Honor's rulings, but on the conduct of the law enforcement officers involved, and he is simply not willing to play again at what he perceives to be an unfair or crooked table.
So he's entering this plea not based on any of the evidence that Mr.
Dornfried has just articulated.
He is entering this plea because it's 15 years.
He served eight years for a crime he did not commit.
He's 73 years old, and he has no faith in Durham law enforcement being interested in the truth as opposed to being interested in convicting him and twisting evidence to that purpose.
So I just wanna make clear that that's why we're entering this Alford plea, not for any of the reasons that Mr.
Dornfried indicated.
All right, the court does find as a fact that the state has offered a sufficient factual basis.
Mr.
Peterson, are you able to hear and understand me, sir? Yes, sir.
Do you understand that you do have the right to remain silent and that any statement you make may be used against you? Yes, sir.
Mr.
Peterson, you've indicated on the transcript here that you believe you can read, write, communicate at the college level.
- Is that correct, sir? - Yes, sir.
Mr.
Peterson, has this charge been explained to you by your lawyer? Do you understand the nature of the charge and do you understand every element of this offense? Yes, sir.
And, sir, have you and your lawyer discussed possible defenses, if any, to this charge? Yes, sir.
Mr.
Peterson, are you satisfied with your lawyer's legal services? Yes, sir.
Do you understand, sir, that you do have the right to plead "not guilty" and have a jury trial? Yes, sir.
And do you understand, Mr.
Peterson, that when you enter a plea of guilty, you give up all those rights and that there will not be a jury trial? Yes, sir.
Mr.
Peterson, you're pleading guilty pursuant to North Carolina v.
Alford case of voluntary manslaughter.
That's a class D felony that carries the maximum penalty of up to 229 months.
Do you understand, sir? Yes, sir.
And do you now personally plead guilty pursuant to the Alford case? Yes, sir.
Do you understand that when you enter a plea of Alford and you do not admit the fact of your guilt, the court will treat you as being guilty for purposes of sentencing you? Yes, sir.
And do you consider it to be, Mr.
Peterson, in your best interest to enter a plea of guilty pursuant to Alford even though you do not admit the fact of your guilt? Yes, sir.
The defendant shall serve an active term of 64 months minimum to 86 months maximum.
The defendant shall be given credit for any time already served in relation to this offense.
Mr.
Peterson, is that correct as being your full plea arrangement? Yes, sir.
And do you now personally accept this arrangement? Yes, sir.
Mr.
Peterson, do you enter this plea of your own free will, fully understanding what you're doing, sir? - Yes, sir.
- All right.
Court finds that the defendant is satisfied with his lawyer, he is competent to stand trial, his willingness to plead guilty pursuant to Alford is the informed choice of the defendant, that it is made freely, voluntarily, and understandingly.
Anything as to argument as to any aspect of sentencing from the state, Mr.
Dornfried? Your Honor, family members are present and do wish to address the court at this time.
- Hear them.
- All right.
My name is Lori Campbell.
Kathleen Peterson was my sister, Your Honor, Judge Hudson.
It's right that Michael Peterson finally acknowledges in court that there is enough evidence for the prosecution to convict him for the horrific death of my sister Kathleen.
Yet it's wrong that after a jury sentenced him to life in prison for the murder of his wife, he gets to be a free man while Kathleen lies in a grave.
Closure, it's for a door, not for my murdered sister.
Thank you.
Good morning.
Good morning.
I'm Candace Zamperini, Kathleen's other sister.
Two months after Kathleen's death, my husband, Lori, and I drove in February 2002 for the first time to meet with district attorney Jim Hardin.
I didn't wanna believe she'd been murdered.
I was sure this was an accident.
At the end of the meeting, Jim Hardin asked if I wanted to see the autopsy pictures and some crime scene photos.
He handed me a large envelope.
It was my Pandora's box.
All the evils of my sister's death leaped into my eyes.
The horrors of my sister's beating were shown.
The assaulting of her body.
Instead of leaving me with Pandora's hope, what was left in the envelope for me was to bear responsibility to witness and fight for justice.
Learn the truth and agony of Kathleen's prolonged death.
Her autopsy states over 35 cuts, bruises, wounds, contusions all around her body.
She was strangled, and the seven death blows to the back of her head causing her to bleed slowly to death.
The next confrontation came from a French film company, that wanted to make a pseudo-documentary about my sister's murder, without my family's cooperation or consent.
Michael Peterson would have a movie made that he could pontificate.
He could tell everyone, all of you, how incompetent the Durham police and justice system was.
He could proclaim in this film, again, his complete innocence.
The Staircase film was made, and twice, episodes were used to threaten and scare Kathleen's daughter and myself.
Michael Peterson states in the film, "If not for Candace and Caitlin, I would not be here in a courtroom.
" And in Episode 8, filmed in the courtroom, Michael Peterson, again, clearly says, "Candace just can't keep her fucking mouth shut.
I don't think I'd be here if she shut her mouth.
" These statements were threatening to me.
And anyone for eternity can replay them on YouTube.
And that hurts me and hurts my niece, and we did nothing to hurt you.
The correct ending to The Staircase is Michael Peterson was correctly charged with murder and is pleading guilty today.
I was very innocent 15 years ago and unprepared for dealing with press, journalists, much less a murder trial for someone I loved.
Now, David Rudolf.
You wanted Michael Peterson to appear to be the victim.
You went out of your way to never say my sister's name.
As a matter of fact, in opening arguments, you called her Kathryn, not Kathleen.
Rudolf picked up Kathleen's clothes with bare hands real good technique there in front of the jury, he handled them, he threw her clothes on side tables.
You would stare down witnesses, you would try and stare me down, you'd try and threaten me, you'd loudly rant in the courtroom to the point a juror actually put his fingers in his ears to drown you out.
I was and I still am astonished that Michael Peterson and David Rudolf spent so much time, thought, energy to focus on me.
I actually think David Rudolf and Michael Peterson believe I have some supernatural power, or maybe I'm the all-powerful Wizard of Oz! Both of you tried to shut me down, or shut my "effing" mouth, as you said, Michael.
But you know what? It didn't matter.
Jury focused on the crime scene pictures, Kathleen's blood washed and splattered all over the staircase walls, Kathleen's blood splattered up inside your shorts that you wore that night.
They also focused on just her battered, beaten body.
Lastly, Michael Peterson.
The words "Alford plea," they're meaningless.
Alford schaml-ford! It means nothing.
Guilt.
You brutally took the life of a woman that provided for you and guided your children, loved your children.
She loved you.
She made a home people complimented.
She cooked extravagantly.
She opened her heart and home with joy.
Kathleen was the best person you ever had in your life.
Michael Peterson, you are pleading guilty to voluntarily manslaughter, you will be treated as guilty for murdering my sister Kathleen and you will be a convicted felon forever.
This hearing today is as close to justice as anything I think can be found.
You served almost 9 years in prison, you lost your reputation, you lost your home, you're indigent, and now finally today, what my family has always, always wanted to hear: You are pleading guilty today to beating my sister Kathleen to death.
Michael Peterson, not only can you wear the scarlet letter "A" for "adultery," but also the black letter "G" for "guilty.
" Not perfect justice, but justice.
Thank you, Your Honor.
All right, anything else from the defense? - Do you want to say something? - I don't think so.
You sure? No, Your Honor.
All right.
The defendant Mr.
Peterson is sentenced pursuant to the terms and conditions of this negotiated arrangement.
His plea of guilty pursuant to Alford is accepted by the court.
He is sentenced to an active term of 64 months minimum, 86 months maximum in the Division of Adult Correction.
Mr.
Peterson served, unjustly, I might add, 98 months in the Department of Correction, which exceeds his sentence.
And he doesn't need to report anywhere and he's free to go at this point.
All right, the court does find that he has served his term and he is free to go.
- Thank you, Your Honor.
- Thank you, sir.
- Anything else, Counselor? - Nothing, Your Honor.
- All right, shut us down, Mr.
Deputy.
- All rise.
Oyez, oyez.
This session is cleared, the courtroom of Durham County is now in recess.
Signed out.
- Okay.
- We'll have a seat.
Wait for all these people get out of here.
Yup, yup, yup.
Okay.
Okay.
Michael Peterson, to me, lives a fictional life and does not tell the truth.
Anything he has to say is absolutely meaningless.
I beat my chest.
He plead guilty.
It felt good, it really did.
An innocent man does not plead guilty.
Mr.
Peterson plead guilty today, and that is how he will be treated forever.
- Thank you.
- Thank you.
- Thank you very much.
- You're more than welcome.
It's not fair, it's not right.
I am innocent, and yet I've got this verdict there.
Pleas are deals.
That's all there is to it.
This deal is not a good one for me because I've got that "manslaughter" on my record.
It is a great deal for the district attorney.
One thing that Lori said today is true.
There is no closure.
This is not an end.
We all lost someone precious.
That person's gone, and I will bear that loss far, far more than the verdict that came out today.
That's all I got to say.
Okay, guys, thank you much.
I'm not sure I'd say the liars have won.
I mean, Michael's gonna continue to live his life.
Whether he was found not guilty at a next trial, or this is the result, is not gonna make one bit of practical difference to Michael.
What will make a difference to the system, maybe going forward, is that these lies were exposed.
And what was exposed was that the state wasted millions and millions of dollars in resources to convict an innocent person.
And it happens more frequently than people want to admit.
Although he spent eight years in prison, maybe time that he should not have spent, certainly his conviction was reversed.
That is very strong evidence that the criminal justice system does work.
I thought the jury got the case fairly, which meant that they got the evidence that both parties wanted them to have.
Um Over the years, though, you can see how with time and more examination of of the evidence that did come in, how maybe it wasn't without prejudice.
And so, if you get a chance to do it over again, which I certainly would have gotten that chance, there were things that I would have I would have changed.
You know, I think over time, the introduction of the death in Germany was very prejudicial to the defendant.
I thought that all the homosexual evidence, however it was used, would have been unduly prejudicial to the defense and probably should not come into evidence.
And I believe, ultimately, a fair and reasonable juror could make a different decision that was made by that first jury.
I think I could have had a reasonable doubt.
- Hey, Dad! - Oh, my God! - I watched the the hearing - Uh-huh.
online this morning.
And? - Candace is crazy.
- Yeah.
Yeah.
Oh, God, I didn't realize it was that bad.
Yeah.
Yeah.
Here's some news for you, though, okay? I know you wanna know about Caitlin.
She was there.
I hope she's doing well.
Well, you know what? I think, I guess she is.
Caitlin has twins.
Caitlin has twins, that's so cool! Yeah, that's what I thought.
Yeah, yeah.
And I had a long talk with your sister.
She's thinking maybe down the road, it'd all work out with you three.
What do you think? Oh She's such a distant part of my life that I don't know, right now, I've really been trying not to go backwards at all.
And just move forward.
But are you okay, dear? Yeah, yeah, I'm okay.
I, um You know, it's just, it's a lot of emotions.
Just going through it, and I know, like, tomorrow it will be easier.
It's just today is the day.
- It's the day that it happened, so - I know, I know.
I just kind of took off the afternoon to calm down and take care of myself.
I was like, "Hey, I think I'm gonna leave after lunch.
I'll get you through your morning meetings and then there's nothing going on in the afternoon.
You know, I'm just dealing with, like, some sad family stuff, but, you know, I'll be fine on Monday.
" Well, they all know, don't they? - No.
No way! - Oh.
I don't tell anybody, Dad.
- Oh, oh, oh.
- No.
Well, I understand.
No, same way with Todd.
He doesn't want this.
Exactly.
Who needs it? Right.
- Yeah, 'cause it's my own life, you know? - Right.
I want people to know me, not the crazy circumstances around me.
Excellent.
That's how it should be.
Yeah.
- It does feel good that it's over.
- Mm-hmm.
I mean, we don't have to go to any more hearings, there's nothing.
It's It's We can just all hang out and not have to talk about legal stuff.
Right.
Right.
Well, until somebody else fucks up, right? Well at least your legal stuff.
Well, I'm planning my next one, all right? I don't wanna be forgotten, Margaret.
Hello.
Alexa.
I'm gonna have Alexa play my favorite song.
Just a sec.
- Alex, play "Every" - Shall I play you music? Sweet.
Alexa! Play "Everybody Knows.
" Leonard Cohen.
"Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen.
I love this.
You know this song? Alexa! Lower.
"All are punishèd.
" It's not the final line.
The final line, of course, is, "The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.
Some shall be pardoned, and some punished.
For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
" But I think the real line is "All are punishèd.
"