Thursday, August 24, 2017

“Beyond Reasonable Doubt” - BBC Radio 5 — Was there a mystery accomplice in the Michael Peterson case? (audio clips here)

In about a week, I will have some new information and insight on Faith Hedgepeth’s case. On September 7, it will be five years since she was murdered. Case open. Case active. 
No arrest.

For a few years, this site was centered exclusively on Faith. But in the last year, little has emerged – pretty much since the 20/20 piece. In turn, I am expanding for now to include other cases, issues, stories, happenings, or commentary.

My focus on Faith, when I have new material, will remain. 
In this post, the Michael Peterson matter. The man whose self-absorption knows no end was once convicted for murdering his wife Kathleen, in Durham’s Forest Hills neighborhood.
I won’t go into the background and current status. This story sums it up, if you don’t know already.
However, there is some news emerging, even now, thanks to a BBC radio podcast in which I have been involved. An array of audio links to excerpts are interspersed below.
The ordeal last made headlines with Peterson’s Alford guilty plea to manslaughter, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to know.
New interviews were conducted in late July by the team leading BBC Radio 5’s podcast on the Michael Peterson case, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, (BRD).
The series is produced by Mark Sandell of Wise Buddah Productions and hosted by BBC radio presenter Chris Warburton, who is also the primary interviewer.
It has been running weekly since June 6, with new episodes typically posted on Monday nights ( 
Episode 13 of BRD, featuring Kathleen Peterson's sister, Candace Zamperini, is this week. It is gripping in places. Candace cherishes her sister, and it shows. And she has fascinating, powerful insight on Peterson and the Alford plea. Her courage and commitment since her sister's murder in 2001: simply amazing.

Through its first month, the show ranked as the number one stand-alone podcast in the United Kingdom.
In addition to case participants and those with connections to them, several commentators/writers/observers speak in the podcast, including this writer, along with Joe Neff of the N&O and Julia Sims of WRAL-TV.
Warburton and Sandell came back to Durham when the agenda was set.

The lineup included: Judge Orlando Hudson, who has rarely spoken publicly on the Peterson case; Judge Jim Hardin (the former district attorney), who has also said very little since the trial ended; Kelli Colgan, a juror; and Candace Zamperini, who has been a tireless advocate for her late sister.
And, of course, Michael Peterson. He talked after his guilty plea at the courthouse and on WRAL-TV, where he continued to profess his innocence.
He makes himself hard to find, but I tracked him down at home. The 73-year old lives in a modest, tree-shaded apartment complex off of 15-501 about a mile from South Square.

When the BBC encountered Peterson - as I sat nearby within earshot - he berated them loudly, cursing and complaining. In a while, though, he calmed down and consented to a more diplomatic interview the next day.
I did not sit in on Peterson’s conversation, but I have a copy of it, courtesy of the podcast producer. It turns out that Peterson’s discussion was the least newsworthy.

The next Beyond Reasonable Doubt episode, posting 8-28. It is remarkably illuminating.

A few short audio excepts from each interview are included here, with Peterson's near the end. Let’s start with Judge Hudson’s.

Orlando Hudson said that when deliberations began in the long-ago trial, he thought the Peterson jury would come back with a finding of guilty. The evidence supported that, he said.
He commented on the power of the states presentation involving the 1984 death of Liz Ratliff in Germany. She was found dead at the bottom of her stairs, and Peterson had been the last to see his friend.
I think that the Ratliff evidence was extremely powerful,” Hudson said. “The jurors said that none of that mattered. I find that quite amazing. I dont think I believe that.”

Hudson went to the former Peterson home with the jury to see the crime scene, and talked about that visit.
“I think the jurors knew that Mr. P was not poor,” he said. “And when they got to that house they knew that he was a lot different from who they were.

The judge went on. “The jurors looked at the stairwell for a long, long time. They could see the blood on the wall, and it helped them, in my mind, decide that she didn’t fall.

Regarding the Alford guilty plea the judge accepted, Warburton asked, “Did it give us justice?”
Hudson answered, “Reasonable people could disagree on whether justice was done. Mr. Peterson pled guilty, and I think the public is satisfied that he committed this crime.
Peterson says he didn’t want a second trial because he’s been playing all along at a so-called crooked table. To that claim, Judge Hudson said, “I  think its ironic…the system has worked in his favor. Someone who might have been actually guilty of murder got a pretty good deal out of the system.”

Jim Hardin came to his interview with the BBC armed with crime scene photos, both printed and on a laptop. He also came prepared to talk about a few matters that had never been publicly disclosed.
When asked about SBI blood spatter specialist Duane Deaver’s falsehoods and the fact that the case was dismissed as a result, Hardin said that at the time of trial he had reports from two of the countrys pre-eminent blood spatter experts, Terry Laber and Barton Epstein.

“They drew the same conclusions Deaver did,” Hardin emphasized, with only a few differences on what he called tertiary matters.
“The basics they concluded were absolutely on the mark in terms of how it happened, who was involved, and what was going on within that scene.”

Hardin believes those reports could have been used in a second trial.

Hardin also revealed that the DAs office learned a few weeks after the trial was over that Michael Peterson had purchased three blow pokes.
A woman in Vermont, Hardin said, reported in that before the trial was over - and before the mysterious blow poke was found - that Michael Peterson had bought three blow pokes. The lady sent us the shipping order and the credit card receipt where Mike Peterson had bought three blow pokes.”

Near the end of the trial, Peterson’s attorney had appeared in court with what he said was the “missing” blow poke, which he posited had been located in Peterson’s garage, missed in the police searches.
Peterson confirmed to the BBC that he had bought the three blow pokes. Why? He said his attorney had originally planned to use them in court to show it was ridiculous to argue that a blow poke could have been the murder weapon.
And, in what was unquestionably the most tantalizing quote within all of the podcast’s interviews, Hardin answered a question about who may have assisted Michael Peterson after his wife's death.
Is there a mystery figure that helped him later?” Hardin said. “I believe: yes."
Beyond Reasonable Doubt also interviewed a Peterson trial juror Kelli Colgan, a nurse. She revealed that, after the verdict, every member of the jury broke down for a few moments when they were finally alone.
“All of of us, once we got down below…we were all crying.
Colgan said it was a release and relief.
She also revealed her discomfort and discontent with some of defense team investigator Ron Guerette’s behavior in the courtroom.
“He would just sit there and stare at us all day long,” Colgan says. “Look right through you. I think it was a little bit of an intimidation factor.
Colgan talked about later watching “The Staircase,” a documentary about the case in which Peterson appeared again and again, and other Peterson comments on television or in print.

“She was bludgeoned. He could walk away and not speak to her except in these William Shakepeare-like ways. That was bizarre. Just nothing seemed to be about her.”
Colgan went on. “I saw sides of him that I never would have thought. I think he always wanted to be famous. This was his chance to be famous. Just: what more can you film about me? What more can you say about me?”
As for the “crooked table” idea Peterson has propounded, “I don’t buy that. I think he's just saying that because he wants people to feel sorry for him.”

A conspiracy against Michael Peterson? “No,” Colgan said. “Not for one second.”


Candace Zamperini spoke from her home with Warburton and Mark Sandell for well over an hour.

One vivid memory: two days after Peterson had called Candace’s husband to say that Kathleen died in an accidental fall, Candace and her sister, Lori Campbell, drove from Virginia to Durham to be with Kathleen’s family and to arrange their sibling’s funeral.

Candace said, “It was 5 o’clock, and that time of year it gets dark around five. That whole house was surrounded by this foggy mist - almost like out of a movie…surreal. And this huge property all has yellow crime scene tape wrapped around the perimeters.

Then there’s Lori and I, two sisters driving up - our eyes as wide as saucers.”

Candace continued. Based on what Peterson had said, “We just thought it was our sister dead of an accident. We had no idea, no idea, until we drove up there that this was a police investigation.”

Candace believes the night Kathleen died, there was a “perfect storm” for a harsh confrontation. “I think she lost it.”

There was a huge fight, Zamperini believes, and Michael “kept beating her and beating her and beating her.”
Zamperini points to another indicator of Peterson’s culpability.

“If he didn't murder her,” she said, “when has he ever put one ounce of effort into finding out what really did in his mind happen…in that house that would cause her head to be ripped open, for her to be choked, for blood to be washed upon the walls?

She went on. “He’s never ever tried to pursue any alternate theory at all. Not one penny, not one ounce of energy. It’s always been about Michael.”


As for Peterson, almost immediately after the record button was pressed, Peterson said he’d heard the podcast was something to despise. Soon after, he disparaged journalists, writers, and commentators alike.
He spent a lot of time doing that, much more time than he spent talking about Kathleen. In fact, he said very little about her.

Peterson also cavalierly lambasts his own sister to no end. She'd told me back before the trial that she thinks her brother is guilty, and that she is scared of him. 
In a written note to the podcast producer and read on air, the sister repeats both assertions.

Funny how he so dislikes anyone who can see truth clearly, all kinds of truth - and thus think he, in general, is about as persuasive as any supreme egocentric. The guy borders on vapid. 

Peterson has spent his life, it seems, blissfully unaware of how transparently artificial he is.
After 18 plus minutes, Peterson said he didn’t kill his wife. He conceded that the autopsy influenced many to think he murdered Kathleen.
“I would say okay, there it is,” Peterson remarked “And there’s so much blood. I think that when you do see the blood, you are overwhelmed with that…and the lacerations.
Absolutely. I see that. The first time i saw them I was horrified myself. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is awful.’”

The former columnist, mayoral candidate and state prisoner was nowhere near as cocky or cavalier as we’ve come to expect, and in many cases he stumbled or seemed to struggle in his replies to some tough questions. 
Peterson still says he was battling a system-wide conspiracy, so no, he didn’t want a second trial. He’d take a plea.
But when asked if there was any funny business” in his case relating to the testimony and evidence connected to Liz Ratliff’s death, Peterson answered: Oh, I would never go that far. No. No. No. No, I wouldnt even touch that one.”

Warburton asked what Peterson thought about the autopsies that showed wounds on the head of Ratliff and the injuries to Kathleen Peterson’s scalp to be fairly similar: “I have no thoughts on that. I believe that Liz suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.”
He was asked about the persistent and much-maligned owl theory - the idea that an owl attack led to the death of Kathleen Peterson. The beating victim’s widow says,Is it possible? Of course it’s possible.”

He went on: “Was there an intruder? Yes, that’s a possibility.”
When asked why hes never taken any steps to find a possible intruder who may have killed Kathleen and gotten away with it, Peterson answers: Would that make Kathleen any less dead? Would that reverse any of this tragedy?
A few moments later, I have decided I am just moving on.”
In closing, he said about his life today, “I think we’re all pretty happy with the way things are right now.”

Podcast episodes that include these interviews will air over the next few weeks into September. Candace Zamperini’s was posted 8-21.

Near the close of her talk with BBC Radio 5, Candace Zamperini said, “I just want to put everything back into that box and try to go back to remembering the happy times with my sister, and not hopefully think about Michael ever again.

I can’t imagine any reason I’ll ever see him again. I do not want to see him again. Except I do want to know the day he's dead. That will give me the ultimate closure.”