Evidence explains how a crime scene unfolds, yet the evidence presented in The Staircase only inspires fiercer debates over who, if anyone, is truly guilty of a crime. A re-release of the famous true crime drama, Netflix's The Staircase revisits the events surrounding the 2001 alleged murder of Kathleen Peterson. In one of the longest court trials in North Carolina history, celebrated author and military man Michael Peterson stood accused of the murder of his wife Kathleen, whom he claimed accidentally fell to her death. As the murder trial of Kathleen Peterson unfolded, troves of sensationalistic evidence surfaced including illicit affairs, a hidden past, and inexplicable amounts of blood.
Sifting through the nearly two-year-long trial, these key pieces of evidence determined the trajectory of the trial and its aftermath. These things you might have missed in The Staircase fail to explain what happened to Kathleen, but they do reveal how the trial went from an investigation to a media sensation.
The Blood On The Underside Of Michael Peterson's Shorts
The prosecution's expert blood-spatter witness Duane Deaver shares that investigators found a few drops of blood on the inseam of Michael Peterson's short; that is, up the bottom of his shorts.
Deaver testifies, suggesting this kind of blood spatter most likely would occur if Peterson stood over the body of his wife while beating her repeatedly. He even re-enacts a test in the same hallway, whacking at a sponge soaked with fake blood. Similar blood drops are produced, and the graphic nature of this testimony (as well as with presenting the original shorts to the jury) clearly sways things into the prosecution's favor.
The Discrediting Of One Expert Led To Peterson's Conviction Being Overturned
Duane Deaver appears in the trial as a State Bureau of Investigation agent and the prosecution's expert blood-spatter witness. Many consider him to have delivered the testimonies which ultimately convinced the jury Peterson was guilty of murder.
Peterson ended up sentenced to life in prison in 2003. In 2011, Deaver was fired after an internal investigation regarding questionable representation of evidence (specifically blood evidence) turned up problems in more than 34 cases. One of these cases happened to be Peterson's, and Judge Orlando Hudson overturned the original verdict, granting Peterson a new trial.
In Court, Peterson's Lawyer Proves Errors Were Made By The Police During The Initial Crime Scene Investigation
During the initial murder trial, the prosecution uses their questioning of witness Ben George (crime scene technician) to convey the amount of blood at the scene, as well as insinuate that Michael Peterson's story doesn't line up.
However, Peterson's lawyer, David Rudolf comes back with a blistering interrogation, beginning by lining up crime scene photos side-by-side and pointing out small inconsistencies; said inconsistencies just so happen to look like spots of blood. Shockingly, George admits a manufacturing glitch happened in the processing of the film, and that the amount of glitches present were unknown.
On top of this, Rudolf also brings to light discrepancies in blood spatters between photos. Rudolf points out how some drops of blood appear wiped partially away in photos that were taken moments or hours apart.
The photos, Rudolf makes clear, were taken when Peterson was being held in the den. This meant only the police could have (accidentally or not) been responsible for the difference in photos. Looking defeated and uncomfortable, George admits the authorities contaminated the crime scene.
Michael Peterson’s Correspondence With Male Escorts
The prosecution digs up any and all evidence from Michael Peterson's personal life, hoping something might led to a conviction. One big reveal happens when the prosecution introduces email correspondence with a male escort and gay pornography downloaded onto Peterson's computer.
Brent "Brad" Wolgamott testifies in the initial trial, acknowledging Peterson contacted him for sexual services and that they discussed prices for services, yet they had never actually met. Additionally, Wolgamott stresses how Peterson had made it clear he loved his wife, saying, "He indicated that he had a warm relationship with his wife and nothing would ever destroy that."
The prosecution tries to push that Michael had been having an affair, and Kathleen found out and planned to leave him. This, the prosecution argues, gave him motive to attack Kathleen. On the contrary, defense lawyer David Rudolf implies that Kathleen knew of her husband's bisexuality and didn't care.