The Staircase: Theories

As Michael Peterson was on trial for the murder of his wife Kathleen Peterson, the trial became a battle of the experts. In our last post, we mentioned that the defense was adamant that Kathleen died from a fall, while the prosecution stuck to the theory that the Michael Peterson murdered his wife with a blow poke.

The prosecution hinged much of its case on the blood evidence. They enlisted Blood Spatter Analyst Duane Deaver as their main expert during the trial. Deaver spent several days reviewing all blood evidence and explaining how the murder could have taken place while producing minimal castoff blood evidence.

duane-deaver-evidence                         Source

A crucial piece of evidence was blood specs that were found on the inside of Michael Peterson’s shorts. Deaver created an experiment where he demonstrated that by standing over Kathleen and hitting her with the blow poke, blood spatter could have landed inside Michael Peterson’s shorts.

After one of the longest trials in North Carolina’s history, Michael Peterson was found guilty of Kathleen Peterson’s murder on October 10, 2003. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

After eight years in prison and a number of failed appeal attempts, Michael Peterson got his break. The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations fired Blood Spatter Analyst Duane Deaver after an audit found that he had deliberately fabricated results in about 200 cases.

With this news, Peterson’s lawyers again appealed and were granted a new trial.

On February 24, 2017, a resolution between the prosecution and defense had been established and Peterson entered an Alford plea to the court. When a defendant enters an Alford plea he does not admit guilt but recognizes that the prosecution does have enough evidence to convict. The judge awarded him time-served and Michael Peterson was able to leave the courtroom a free man.

The Owl 

There are many followers of this case, including Michael Peterson’s own former neighbor T. Lawrence Pollard who strongly believe that Kathleen was not murdered by her husband, but that she was killed by an owl.

A podcast from BBC called Beyond Reasonable Doubt does an excellent job of impartially reporting on the Michael Peterson case in a way that the documentary The Staircase was unable to achieve. In Episode 9, the hosts interview Pollard who is clearly passionate about his theory and has dedicated much of his life to proving its validity.

There are three main reasons why the owl theory isn’t as far-fetched as you would think.

  • Owl Feet Marks
    • The marks on Kathleen’s head look very similar to a mark that could be made by a barred owl.
owl-theory                                                                        Source
Barred Owl b57-12-027_V
Source
  • Microscopic Feathers
    • There were microscopic feathers found in Kathleen’s hair. This is a telling piece of evidence–however, could they simply be the feathers found in a down pillow?
  • Pine Tree Needles
    • Pine tree needles were also found on Kathleen. But they were the same type of pine tree needles that are commonly used as Christmas trees.

The owl theory could almost have me convinced. However, there’s one more detail that supports my own personal theory.

My Theory

While watching the trial I did not believe a simple fall down the stairs could produce that much blood. However, I also did not believe that Kathleen Peterson was murdered by getting hit repeatedly with a blow poke.

One crucial piece of evidence is barely mentioned in The Staircase until Kathleen’s sister Candace Zamperini makes a passionate speech after Michael Peterson makes his Alford plea.

The medical examiner found that Kathleen Peterson had a fracture to her thyroid cartilage.

“[Dr. Radisch] moved her examination to the internal neck area, and discovered a bloodied fracture with hemorrhage on the small extension off of the left thyroid cartilage. It was an injury unlikely to occur in a fall. Usually it was the result of direct trauma to the bone and was common in strangulation or attempted strangulation.” – Written in Blood by Diane Fanning

Dr. Radisch has explained that outside of a strangulation, the only time she has seen a similar injury is in the rare case that a victim has hit broken their neck by hitting it in that specific spot against a steering while in a crash.

When you take into account the indications of strangulation, the defensive wounds on her arms, and the motive for murder, it is my opinion that Michael Peterson did in fact murder his wife.

I believe she found his emails to the male escort while using his computer that night, and they fought. I believe he strangled her and hit her head repeatedly against the stairs, then spent a couple of hours coming up with his story until he called 911 at 2:40AM.

 

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