The Staircase (2022) s01e06 Episode Script

Red in Tooth and Claw

Good to see you again.
- How are you feeling? - Fine.
A bit strange to be back here.
For good reason, though.
I'm going to finish setting up.
See you in there.
About time.
How's Sonya? She's good.
She's good.
Kids are good.
Everyone's good, you know.
- You? How's the gang? - The family's fine.
Are you ready? First day of the rest of your life.
There's no going back now.
Thank god for that.
Sooner we get this done, the sooner you get to Paris.
We've got just enough time to run through the questions before we see the judge.
RALEIGH That's yours.
I'd like us to walk through this one more time.
Today, February 24th, 2017, you, Michael Peterson, will be entering an Alford plea.
This plea has been carefully negotiated with the state of North Carolina over the past several years.
We will begin by saying the following: "Michael Peterson is innocent.
" THE STAIRCASE SPRING 2006 Did you find a place to rent? I'll keep looking.
Well, you know how I like a view.
We'll be lucky if it doesn't look directly into a brick wall.
Well, I've got better things to look at.
It's Mr.
Calling again.
As I mentioned, I have something I'd love to discuss with you.
I think you have a vested interest in this.
Please call me back.
Thanks for getting back to me, Ms.
Where are we, Mr.
Pollard? Call me Larry.
Well, where are we going, Larry? Listen.
To what? To nature.
Sounds like chaos, doesn't it? Another universe operating within our own with its own set of rules.
And sometimes, these universes overlap in ways that feel wrong.
But disorder, entropy, is natural.
Scary, but natural Hey! Come here, boy.
Pollard, I mean, Larry, you said you wanted to talk about Michael.
That's right.
You know, barred owls love this area.
We had a feathered fella that bounced between the Petersons and my place.
Drive the dogs nuts when they heard him.
Barking up a storm.
Not Flint.
He's well-trained.
Well, it was those crazy bulldogs.
God rest their souls.
None of this makes sense to me.
I have reason, actually many reasons, to believe that an owl was responsible for Kathleen's death.
Well, just give me a chance to show you.
You never know where it could lead.
Is that? The Peterson house.
Do my kids know? I came here right away.
I will call them, if you like.
So what do we do now? What's next? Do we, we file a third appeal? I mean, just tell me, what do we do? Nothing's next, Mike.
We lost our second appeal.
There are no more.
I know we were hoping that with the documentary being out there and the country's attitudes changing, that public opinion might have been enough for us to win a retrial, but that's just not how it played out for now.
Mike, for now, it's over.
So you're saying that I'm here for the rest of my life? You're just going to let this happen to me, to my kids? What are they going to do without me? Jesus.
This is horseshit.
There has to be a way.
I mean, a motion we can file or There isn't, Mike.
There isn't.
And I need to take a step back now.
- Be there for my family.
- What? Your family? For Christ's sakes, your, your kids are in college.
I'm getting remarried.
To Sonya Pfeiffer.
The journalist.
We got to know each other, you know, during the trial.
My trial.
- Mike.
- So, my attorney was fucking some 25-year-old That's not how it was.
court reporter, and now I'm gonna rot in jail! I was focused 100 percent.
Fuck you, Dave.
Hang on.
Hey, I want to go back to my cell.
Alright, hang on, Mike.
Come on.
- Now! I want to go back! - Don't, Mike! Look, let's say a proper goodbye.
Well, okay.
Say a proper goodbye.
Alright, Dave, enjoy your family.
David, hi.
I'm good.
What's up? Listen, I know it's not the outcome any of us wanted.
It's terrible news, and there's no denying that.
We're all going to have to figure out how to live in a new reality.
It's not going to be easy.
I want you to know it's been an honor to fight for your father.
To fight for this family.
BALTIMORE, MD And I hope that one day you can think of this as closure.
CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO We're out of limbo.
We can move on, even if not in the way we had hoped.
DURHAM, NC We'll be releasing the defense files to the family.
So I guess this is goodbye.
One, two, three, four.
Hey, Mom.
Are you okay? Yeah, honey, I'm fine.
Are your eyes acting up again? It's just stress.
This Thanksgiving feels so weird.
Come here.
I wish that Martha and Margie were here.
Me too.
I have more bad news.
The boys aren't coming either.
Work obligations or something.
I'm sure that they do.
Michael doesn't want to go to Candace's either.
I'm surprised we're even going since Michael usually gets what he wants.
I'm honestly so sorry about parents' weekend.
About not coming.
I'm going to do better to be there.
It's okay.
It's okay.
- I'm sorry.
- Thank you.
- Hi.
- Hi.
- Nice to meet you.
- So nice to meet you.
Shall we go? Let's do it.
You're doing okay on money? Stamps and all that? I can do more.
It doesn't matter how much you send.
Your father's been writing.
Some short stories.
Dad, that's great.
No, I stopped all that.
How's married life? I believe we still owe you a gift.
Oh no, thank you.
That's too kind.
Our place is pretty small, so we don't really need much.
Don't want anything from me? He's being polite, Michael.
I spoke to Todd yesterday.
He says the Cabo real estate thing is really paying off.
He's got some sweet setup at the beach.
And Martha's got a new job at a cafe, and she started going to therapy.
She says she's going to start studying dance again, which is great.
So, Sophie, what are you doing in Durham? I'm working on a new film with Jean and I come to see your father.
- Another documentary? - No, no, no, fiction.
No more documentaries for us.
And also I just met with Larry.
Larry Pollard? Why? Well, he's been investigating the case.
He has an interesting theory.
He believes an owl has something to do with that night.
An owl? - Okay.
- Who is Larry? - Larry was our next-door neighbor.
- Okay.
Do you remember when he had that dead deer in his convertible? I mean, who drives a convertible to go hunting? He's eccentric.
This needs to end.
Dad? Dad.
I'm all torn up about Mike losing his second appeal.
He was a good neighbor.
A good man.
It's a shame to see an innocent man behind bars.
A damn shame.
But the defense, the prosecution, neither of them made much sense of the facts.
And that's what makes what I'm about to say so convincing.
This theory accounts for the previously unaccountable.
I'm first to admit it's crazy.
But that doesn't make it any less true.
There were confirmed owl attacks in the area.
In almost every case, the owl strikes from behind, attacking the head.
In December, when Kathleen died, barred owls are mating and known to be aggressive and territorial.
As you can see, the talon of the barred owl matches the set of wounds found on Kathleen.
When the owl attacks, the talons, like razors, rip into Kathleen's skull.
She fights to get the bird off.
The tussle with the owl explains the scratches and pinpricks on her face, her nose, her hands.
It also explains why there are no skull fractures.
And it tells us why.
In the examiner's report, "Hair was noted to be grasped between the left and right hand.
" She was trying to fight off the owl as it got tangled in her hair.
So finally, when the bird releases her, it flies away unharmed.
But Kathleen, she stumbles to the front door.
Two drops of blood fall onto the path.
Kathleen grabs the door, leaving a smear of blood.
She's now disoriented.
She moves up the back stairs, heading to the linen closet, searching for something to stop the blood that's now really coming down.
And bam, Kathleen Peterson falls down the stairs.
The day before she died, they weren't there.
That's why Kathleen was outside in the first place.
She must have put him out there that night.
And that's when the owl decided to strike.
Kathleen was attacked by an owl! That's why she fell outside her house.
Wait, Sophie Yes.
I know, we're going to have to do some research, have proof and all that, but I'm telling you: The story is not over.
It's not our job to get this involved with a subject.
Yes, but this isn't a subject, it's Michael.
Ok tell me what you need.
Transcripts, images Documents - Which ones? - everything! CENTREVILLE, VA So nice to get to be able to host you all for a change.
Just wish the whole gang were here.
Well, I'm not sure your house would even fit the whole gang.
We'd make it work.
- Go, go, go.
- Come on.
Come on! Come on.
Come on, go! - Go.
- Goddammit! So, Michael, you read anything good lately? Well, I read this pillow five or six times.
It's a real tour de force, Mark.
Those little guys are adorable.
Now how long do they take? - Forty, 45 minutes at 350.
- Forty-five? Shoot, I don't have the oven space.
Well, no, you do, actually, if you just did the sweet potatoes later.
- I have a plan.
- Plans change.
- Here, what if I just - Lori, don't touch that oven.
All I'm trying to say is when I host, I like to give the guests a little guidance on what to bring, so we don't have Yeah, and I like to not micromanage my guests and stress them out in advance.
Hello? Can I just jump in here for a second? - Lori, quiet! - Just let us talk! Jesus Christ, you two.
Becky point-blank gave me an ultimatum.
Curb your drinking, though? I mean, what does curb mean? Like, stop.
It's the DUIs, man.
Yeah, I'm sure hulking out on 4th of July didn't help.
Oh, fuck off.
You know, why don't you just tell her you're taking a break? Keep drinking.
You mean lie to her? No, it's not lying.
You're just not telling her the whole truth.
I mean, you're curbing, right? That's like coming to a slow stop.
But can I even do that? Like, can I curb my shit? I mean, it's not just the drinking, it's everything.
How do I know I'm not going to be like Dad? Huh? He cheated on Mom.
He left her.
He still hits her up for money.
Look at Dad with Kathleen.
Right? I mean, he's a great husband, he's loyal.
It's about the person, Clay.
You're really psyching yourself out about all this.
If you want to do it, you can get your shit together.
Fuck yeah.
Cue the music.
I'm going to let them in.
Alright? Hold on.
I'm coming! - Hey, happy Thanksgiving.
- Happy Thanksgiving! Hi, I'm Melody.
This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for the strength of my spirit.
- Thank you.
- Thank you, Melody.
Alright, guys.
I'm Josh.
And I would like to express my gratitude through song.
I'm Yasmine.
This is Shawn.
What are you doing later? You want to go to a real party? What's a real party? Not this.
Bless us, O Lord, for these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord.
We are so happy to have you here.
And I know Liz is just so pleased to see us together.
Martha should come next year.
I mean, we will if Dad keeps being a psycho.
Well, we all need a break from Michael now and then.
What do you mean? Well, Michael always did, you know, march to the beat of his own drum.
And with you girls, he was just so Hey, Margie.
Important question.
What part of the bird do you want? You're starting to get soft.
Need to get you lifting again.
I'm talkin' to you.
Jesus! - Michael.
- What the fuck you doing? What the fuck you doing! I'm gonna fucking kill you! I'm gonna fucking kill you! I'm gonna fucking kill you! Hole! Hole! Hole! Hole! The Peterson yard has lots of wide-open space.
Because of this, barred owls love the woods surrounding 1810 Cedar.
The yard gave them ample opportunity to hunt.
Would you say with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that Kathleen Peterson was killed by blunt force trauma to the head? - Yes.
- Was there anything unusual about the hairs you found in Kathleen's hand? When I examined the hairs, there were ones where the cut looks like the edge of a knife, and they were also ragged so it looks as they were broken.
It's a combination of these two characteristics that make us think it was an attack instead of a fall.
I knew it.
I damn well knew it.
Crime scenes are littered with evidence.
Some of it you can see, some of it you can't.
This is a list of the small stuff.
Like pine needle and Larry.
Already? Zamperini family tradition.
Turkey's gone, and it's Christmas time.
Oh god, we don't even get to digest first? Mom.
Let's go to bed.
I'm glad you came back home, kiddo.
Means a lot to your mom.
And to me.
Yeah, of course.
I mean, you are gonna fly Margaret and Martha home for Christmas, right? I'm not a sadist.
Kathleen! What are you doing? Stop.
I asked you not to put those in the dishwasher.
Jesus Christ! They're not bone China.
This is my house, and these are my good plates.
Okay, you know what? I'll just get you some new ones.
What? What is going on with you? You have been awful all day.
I mean, you're clearly exhausted, you look like crap.
Thank you so much.
You know what? I am stressed, but some of us have actual fucking jobs.
You know what, you think you're so much better than me, and you never miss a chance to remind me of it.
Everything I do, all my efforts, will always be second best compared to you.
- Come on.
- What's going on? Nothing.
I messed up.
We're all just trying our best.
Happy Thanksgiving.
Clay! Are you happy? This is the best night of my entire life.
I couldn't sleep.
Why not? Did I pick a terrible mattress? She's just stressed out.
I could feel you all wishing you were at your house.
That's not true.
It was lovely.
You know, when she's like that with us, it's a little window into how she treats herself.
Not even Kathleen's good enough for Kathleen.
Thanks, Michael.
- Did she bake this? - Yep.
God, that bitch bakes a good pie.
640, on your feet.
What? You got cleaning duty.
- What's going on? - Relax, man.
Cashed in a favor.
We got to talk.
About what? About getting your shit together.
You're falling the fuck apart.
This has nothing to do with you.
You keep getting thrown in the hole, it's going to be a long life.
This isn't life.
I know you, Mike.
You're not a bad person, but you did something.
- Kathleen fell.
- Doesn't really matter because you're here.
And you find a way to live like this or you die.
But make a decision because you can't do both.
You want to go? I'll find you a way.
Something easy.
It doesn't have to hurt.
This is it, isn't it? This is it, Ray.
This is how it all unfolds.
- Fucking hell.
- Hey.
I know.
It's not going to feel like this forever.
Why are you being so nice to me? What do I owe you? You don't owe me.
I identify as queer.
I am queer.
NOVEMBER, 2007 And it's been really hard keeping that a secret.
I realized a little while ago how lonely I was.
How scared when I found out my father was never getting let out of prison.
And I wanted to tell you for so long, especially.
But there was never any room for my stuff or, like, anybody else's stuff.
You know, after some ups and downs, relapses, it's been 18 days.
And a whole lifetime of, like, that just being all there is, I don't think that you will ever really know me.
You know, it's my first time home in a while.
I'm doing good.
I'm okay.
Yeah, it's hard.
I think Michael might welcome hearing all this.
What do you think, Martha? Thank you for listening.
Thank you for sharing, Todd.
Rug fiber.
Next one.
Dried skin.
Move on, please.
See the angle? This hair wasn't pulled.
It was sliced.
Talons like razors.
This has got to be the craziest damn thing I ever heard.
Next slide.
Increase the magnification.
Can we magnify it more? The Petersons lived in the woods.
They had pillows, duvets.
I mean, come on.
I'd like to see slides 35-3-2 through 35-3-10 again, please.
Again? But at this magnification now.
My word! It's another feather.
Tangled right up in her hair.
- Is that blood? - Yeah.
Where was the hair found? Her hands.
The feather was attached to a hair found in her hands? The evidence is six years old, okay.
You're going to need to verify what we're looking at there.
It could be anything.
Or it could be a hair Kathleen pulled from her head as she fought off an owl.
I trust you were able to watch the video explaining our theory.
I did, yes.
It's Let me guess.
Is that a common reaction? It's one of the more diplomatic ones.
I'd like to ask you about the feathers.
What did you make of them? Strange thing to find, no? You can't imagine the things we find on bodies.
Near them.
Inside of them.
I found a Skittle inside a man's ear once.
I don't think the guy who stabbed him put it there.
Honestly, I never saw the feathers.
The fragments were too small.
I didn't even know they were there.
You understand this theory accounts for everything.
The scratches on her face.
The blood on the path.
The front door, the walls, the stairs.
Those brutal lacerations without skull fractures.
- I told you that feather - Feathers.
The fragments could have come from anywhere.
Then how do you explain where it was found? Entwined with her hair in her hand.
Considering this new information, are you willing to reconsider the cause of Kathleen's death? If an owl did attack Kathleen, we might find talon scratches on the skull or DNA left behind by the animal.
I could reexamine the entry point of the lacerations with talons in mind, the wounds on her face and hands.
- Really? - Sure.
But there's nothing I can do without a body.
Kathleen would have to be exhumed.
And to do that, you need permission.
- Hey.
- What the fuck? Sorry.
Where's Big Ray? I don't know.
Transferred or some shit.
Oh fuck.
Oh fuck.
Fuck, fuck.
We didn't do anything.
- You couldn't - Oh god, that's great.
That's so great.
I mean, no offense, you're really pretty, but that's just so great.
Jesus Christ! Boys, get down here! Now! Oh shit.
Shit! I can't believe this.
I mean, I just cannot believe you guys did this.
I mean, Jesus, look at the house.
It was only supposed to be a few friends.
A few friends? What sort of friends would do this? I know I fucked up, okay.
I'm a fuck-up.
I want to make something extremely clear to all of you.
And your sisters, Caitlin, so you text them or whatever and let them know too.
This Thanksgiving was a shit show.
Okay? So to make up for it, we are going to have an incredible Christmas.
The house will be fully decorated, and everyone is coming home.
It will be perfect.
Is that understood? Yup.
Alright, well, I'm going to take a nap.
And when I wake up, it'll be clean.
That's right.
Get on with it.
Nice one, boys.
That could have gone a lot worse.
I'm going to do it.
What? I'm going to propose to Becky.
- What? - Holy shit, Clay.
What? - Holy shit! - Oh my god! We got to tell Dad and Kathleen.
I have to ask her first.
I'll tell them at Christmas.
Are you serious? Shut up.
Shut up! Well, good morning, everyone, and welcome to game time.
The highs, the lows, the good calls, the bad.
And of course the two games everyone Thanks.
I've never seen these before.
Looking at you girls, it's like looking at Liz.
Liz was so full of adventure.
Moving to Germany to teach.
Marrying an Air Force captain.
I felt like such a plain Jane next to her.
But I think that Liz could be brave because she always had me to fall back on.
Yeah, I get that.
Let me show you.
This is a photo of you and Martha when you guys stayed with me and Steven for the summer.
We were here for a whole summer? In Rhode Island? Yeah.
You were six, and Martha was four.
That's a long time.
Dad just just sent us here for fun? Patty was overwhelmed with you and the boys, so she gave me custody of you and your sister.
- What? - But then, well, Michael, he took you back.
He didn't approve of my devotion to God.
Then four years later, when Martha had behavioral issues, boy, did Michael change his tune.
He wanted to keep you and give her to me, but I refused.
I knew what it was like to lose a sister.
Hold on, hold on.
So you're saying that Dad wanted to split us up? Yes.
Oh my god, I have so much to tell you, shit.
Is everything okay? I'm not with Shawn anymore.
Fuck the Shawns.
- What? - No, it's really good, actually, Margie.
It's really, really good.
I have something to tell you.
- Aunt Blair just - You're just gonna freak out when I tell you because I'm so stupid happy.
And I just want to see your face when I tell you why.
Okay, yeah.
I think I'm going to tell you at Christmas.
You and Caitlin.
What were you going to say? You know what? I will tell you at Christmas too.
Hello? Caitlin Atwater? Yes.
Sorry to bother you.
My name is Sophie Brussard.
I'm calling about your mother.
I've been doing some investigating, and I believe the defense's theory about what happened that night is wrong.
I don't think I understand.
Well, I'm not doing a very good job at explaining myself, I think.
Can we just meet to talk? I think it'd be better.
I'm busy.
Can you just say whatever you need to say? There are a lot of questions that remain about that night, and I have a theory I feel answers those questions.
I'm gonna take care of that email.
Just stay.
You're ruining the moment.
Ruining? - I'm ruining it? - Never mind.
You know what I mean.
What's the point of working so hard if you can't live the life you want? I work hard so you can live the life you want.
Alright, let's not do this tonight, okay.
I'll see you in bed.
Don't stay out too late.
Michael! Oh my god! Michael! Michael! Oh my Michael! Michael! Michael! Holy shit.
Fuck! Oh god! Oh god.
This is hard to say.
We'll need to exhume your mother's body to get the answers we're looking for.
So, I'm humbly asking for your permission.
What? What the fuck is wrong with you? No.
No! No.
How fucking dare you! Well, if there were any other way, I wouldn't but please Michael Peterson murdered my mother! Is that clear? I sleep great at night knowing that he will die in prison.
You can direct all your future calls to my lawyer.
THANKSGIVING, 2007 It's nice to see you, Martha.
I know it's hard for you to come here.
It's just tough to see you in here.
But this is how it's going to be.
This wasn't supposed to be the ending.
This isn't your problem to solve.
Time will pass.
"From the beginning of the investigation "into Mrs.
Peterson's death "and throughout his 15-year battle "with the criminal justice system, "Mr.
Peterson has steadfastly maintained "his innocence at all times.
"He did not kill Kathleen Peterson.
"He did not attack Mrs.
"He did not strike Kathleen.
He is not responsible for her death in any way.
" After we've delivered our initial statement, we'll move on to the questions.
"Voluntary manslaughter is a class-D felony "that carries a maximum penalty of 229 months.
- Do you understand?" - Yes.
And then the judge will ask Mr.
Peterson, "Are you satisfied with your lawyer's legal services?" - Yes.
- "The Alford plea "allows Michael Peterson to maintain his innocence "while admitting the evidence against him could lead a jury "to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Now by entering the Alford plea, you are pleading guilty to manslaughter.
" Does all this still make sense? Well, make sense? What do you think? And then the judge will say, "Do you understand "you have the right to plead not guilty and have a jury trial?" Yes.
"And do you now plead guilty pursuant to the Alford plea?" If you accept, you'll be officially released from the correctional system with time served.
That feeling you've had for six years that you could go back at any moment, that's over.
You'll be free.
Mike? Mike? Mike? You good? They want me to say I killed Kathleen.
I'm not going to do it.
A lie doesn't set you free.

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