The conviction of award-winning novelist Michael Peterson for the staircase murder of his wife, Kathleen, is one of the most notorious trials in the state’s history. Many people still have questions about what really happened, and the twists and turns of the case have haunted many over the years.
Now, the story is back in the news because a true-crime documentary about the case and its aftermath is being broadcast to millions once more on Netflix.
The documentary takes a sympathetic look at the defendant in the case, whom many still believe is innocent of the brutal crime for which he was convicted. In fact, many people suggest that Peterson’s morals weighed more heavily in the minds of jurors than the evidence. Testimony in the case included evidence that the author had engaged in homosexual liaisons with prostitutes without his wife’s knowledge. That, coupled with the fact that his writing career was in a slump, led the jury to believe that he killed her after she discovered his secret rather than risk exposure and the financial consequences of a divorce.
Others strongly maintain that any idea that the jury treated the author unfairly is pure nonsense. They say there was sufficient circumstantial evidence that Kathleen was murdered — not the victim of a fall or a wild bird attack (as some have suggested) — while she and her husband were the only two people at home.
Documentaries like these do serve one major purpose — whether you agree with the results of the trial they cover or not. They give viewers a behind-the-scenes look into the mechanisms of a criminal court proceeding. That’s something that most people have very little insight about in their own lives until they’re thrust into the middle of a case themselves.
Anyone seeking a better understanding of how a criminal case is built against someone, one piece at a time — and what can be done to defend someone who is the focus of such a case — could learn much from this series.
Source: The News & Observer, “As Peterson documentary debuts on Netflix, Durham braces for new attention — and scrutiny,” Brooke Cain, June 07, 2018