Synopsis of Behind the Staircase
December 2001 was the beginning of the long, arduous journey for Michael Peterson, who was accused, placed on trial, and convicted of murdering his second wife, Kathleen Peterson. In Behind the Staircase, a memoir, Peterson recounts the events leading up to the incident which would forever change his life.
After spending eight years at the Nash Correctional Institution and several attempts at appeal, Peterson filed an Alford Plea, changing his original plea from not guilty to that of guilty yet still asserting his innocence. His sentence was converted to voluntary manslaughter and he was subsequently released from prison for time served. Having spent 98 and a half months behind bars for his allegedly killing his wife, Peterson was finally a free man.
In Behind the Staircase, Peterson shares the devastating events of Kathleen’s death, his trial and conviction for murder, and the many grueling years that he spent with murderers, rapists, gangbangers, and pedophiles. In Peterson’s own words, he painstakingly describes what his life has been like since that fateful night nearly twenty years ago and what it has meant to him to be ultimately released from prison.
Peterson’s story has been featured in many film and miniseries episodes, each sharing its own twist of events based on the original trial, interviews with jurors, and the retrial proceedings. Behind the Staircase will leave you questioning what really occurred on the evening of December 9, 2011, and how, if at all, was Michael Peterson involved in his wife’s death.
Review of Behind the Staircase
I actually read Behind the Staircase because I found out that Michael Peterson had written it, but after watching the show on Netflix like five or six times.
Behind the Staircase is very well written and it’s even entertaining, and I can’t stand books about living in prison. Behind the Staircase is not really the story of Kathleen Peterson’s death and the trial her husband underwent for her murder, but of his life in prison and how he had to survive it.
Yes, there are things that don’t appear in the show and leave you quite astonished about certain police actions, for example, on the same day of the wife’s funeral. But I’m not going to get into those things anymore.
The bottom line is that the prosecution didn’t prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt. By this I mean, of course, that I believe he’s innocent. And I don’t mean not guilty; but actually innocent. After many years of reading and hearing about “reasonable doubt”, I wonder what judges do when they see an unfair verdict. As far as I know, they can nullify it in that moment and declare that the jury has not reached a fair verdict based on the evidence that has been presented during the trial.
And actually, after seeing the trial on the show, and not knowing anything about what would happen next, I was stunned when Michael Peterson was found guilty and the judge was unfazed. Of course, we must take into account the series of evidence that he admitted and that had nothing to do with the deceased or the circumstances of her death.
We can list a few without even going into the subject of Duane Deaver. This man was an agent of the North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation, a “specialist” in blood spatter and, honestly, they should be ashamed to have personnel like him. As it was seen later.
Anyway, the arguments of the prosecution to convict Michael Peterson:
- Those who got to the house first decided it was a crime, regardless of other possibilities.
- He was the husband. This, by definition, makes you guilty until proven otherwise.
- He was the only known human being in the vicinity. I don’t recall hearing about the wife’s blood alcohol level. Couldn’t she have fallen down the stairs alone? The photos that I saw of the autopsy, in the show and shown by the prosecutor to the jury, once the head of the deceased had been shaved, they looked like horizontal lines. Couldn’t they have been produced by hitting the edge of the steps?
- He was bisexual (attention bisexuals of the world, just because of who you are, you are potential murderers and you don’t even know it). Kathleen found out that night and Peterson, faced with reality, didn’t hold anything back and murdered her. The thing is, it was shown that it didn’t happen that way. Kathleen never discovered the evidence, which was on her husband’s computer, which no one used that night.
- The murder weapon, according to the prosecution and at the suggestion of the wife’s sister, Candance Zamperini, was a poker that she had given her years ago. Leaving aside the fact of the gift itself which, in my opinion, could have been more personal (in fact it seems that she got the lot on sale and gave one to everyone); said poker was found during the trial and it was shown that it hadn’t been used for a long time (it even had cobwebs). Years later it was shown that the police had seen it at the time but hadn’t given it much importance. In fact, the prosecution, once faced with an unused murder weapon, “forgot” about it and didn’t mention it again during the trial. Nor did they give an alternative.
- The death of the biological mother of Peterson’s daughters, Martha and Margaret, Elizabeth Ratliff, in Germany, due to a brain accident that caused her to fall down the stairs, was regarded as the antecedent of the “stairway murders” of Michael Peterson. Well, it seems that the Germans are at the level of the Third World and cannot distinguish a murder from a brain accident. A doctor went to the scene of the “crime” and certified the death from natural causes after taking the relevant tests. That’s not enough for the U.S. They managed to have the body exhumed so that the coroner in the case, Deborah Radisch (I won’t go into her qualifications or integrity), could certify that the death was a “homicide.”
Apart from all this, what more evidence incriminates Michael Peterson? I don’t doubt that I could miss some, but I don’t think so. And I also don’t think that this is evidence that doesn’t raise a reasonable doubt in the jury. Something to note: when it all happened, it turns out that Peterson had been criticizing the police (and everything around them) in the press for some years. He even ran for Mayor. Everything must be taken into account.
I already said that I’m not going to talk about Duane Deaver, who really didn’t come out very well after his lies and deceits were exposed. So I’m not going to say anything else. But what I can say is the following:
- Judge Orlando Hudson will remain in the same position until 2028 and acknowledged some of his errors in the trial (the admission of the whole German thing). He could have done it before and surely many would appreciate it.
- Duane Deaver (I won’t say anything, just follow the link)
- James Harding (then the Assistant District Attorney). He’s now a judge. What can we say? What makes someone a judge in the U.S.?
- Fedra Black (I’m not going to speak badly about someone who has passed away but I didn’t like her in the trial). She carried the full weight of the defendant’s bisexuality as “evidence”.
- Deborah Radisch: then an assistant, now is the North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner, that is, the boss. She proved nothing, in my opinion. It was all in “her opinion” but nothing provable.
Leaving aside Duane Deaver (is this the third time I’ve mentioned him?), who deserves a solo book for his “achievements,” what led the judge and prosecutors to make such a blatant mess? I really don’t understand it (well, I do understand, but I’m not going to say anything because I already see myself in prison).
Just as in other cases I wouldn’t dare defending anyone, in this case I don’t believe that anything was proven. And, for the record, I am not asking you to believe that Peterson is innocent, although I’m convinced that he is. All I’m saying is that his guilt hasn’t been proven. And so no one can be condemned. Have someone present me with evidence incriminating him without question and I will change my mind.
Besides all the mess of the trial, do you know what convinced me the most of Peterson’s innocence? His sense of humor. His interactions, especially with his brother. How they understand each other, how carefree they seem (although I’m sure they weren’t), it can’t be anyone’s fault. That runs in the blood. Nobody would want to be in that mood if they are convinced that they are going to be convicted. In my family we react like this to adversity and we’re not guilty of anything. None of this is shown in Behind the Staircase but I felt it while seeing the show.
But I would also like you to make the following reflection: what does something like what Michael Peterson went through mean to a person’s life? You’re marked forever.
I can’t even imagine it. And it’s not the only case in the United States.
Behind the Staircase is very good.