What happened to Michael Peterson? The true story behind Netflix's The Staircase

What happened to Michael Peterson? The true story behind Netflix's The Staircase

Michael Peterson is a man whose real-life story has gathered a lot of media attention in over two decades to the extent that a television series was made out of it. The retired American soldier who fought in the Vietnam war and rose to the highest position of a Captain was at the centre of a murder case in 2001 and spent about eight years in jail after an initial conviction in 2003.

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Michael Peterson
Peterson listens as his defence attorney David Rudolph makes his opening statements. Photo: Chuck Liddy
Source: Getty Images

Besides being a retired soldier, Michael Peterson is a novelist, columnist, and editor. He lived a relatively quiet life until a series of events made him famous inside and outside the court of law.

However, most people who were close to the man before his legal battles in 2001 confessed that they felt like they never knew him as various pieces of evidence pointed to him as the perpetrator of the gruesome murder of his wife.

Profile summary

  • Birth name: Michael Iver Peterson
  • Date of birth: 23rd of October, 1943
  • Age: 78 years old (as of 2021)
  • Profession: Columnist, editor, and novelist
  • Birthplace/hometown: Nashville, Tennessee, United States
  • Nationality: American
  • Religion: Roman Catholic
  • Sexuality: Bisexual
  • Current residence: Durham, United States
  • Ethnicity: White
  • Zodiac sign: Scorpio
  • Height: 5 feet and 8 inches
  • Weight: 68 kilograms
  • Body build: Fit
  • Parents: Eugen Iver and Eleanor Peterson
  • Siblings: William Eugene, John James, and Ann Ellen Peterson
  • Marital status: Single
  • Previous marriages: Patricia Sue Peterson (1965 to 1987), Kathleen Peterson (1997)
  • Children: Clayton, Todd, Caitlin Atwater (stepdaughter), and Margaret and Martha Ratliff (adoptive daughters)
  • Education: Hampton High School and Duke University

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Who is Michael Peterson?

The novelist and ex-convict was born in Nashville, Tennessee, US, on the 23rd of October, 1943, to Mr and Mrs Peterson. The retired American soldier has three siblings: William, John, and Ann.

Besides, Peterson attended Hampton High School in Vancouver before studying political science at Duke University, where he graduated in 1965. After that, he attempted to study law at the University of North Carolina but dropped out for some reason.

After graduating from the university, Mike got a job as a researcher with the US Department of Defense. He later joined the US Marine Corps in 1968 and fought in the Vietnam war. However, he was honourably discharged from service in 1971 after a permanent disability due to a car accident and started writing novels about his knowledge of the Vietnam conflicts.

Michael Peterson
Michael during one of his court trials. Photo: @RollingStone
Source: Twitter

What happened to Michael Peterson?

Peterson married Kathleen in 1997, and the lovebirds lived in a mansion in Durham, North Carolina, USA. Kathleen had a daughter named Caitlin from a previous relationship; she was also an executive at a multinational company that deals with telecommunications while Peterson enjoyed his career as a novelist.

The couple seemed to be without trouble until the 9th of December, 2001, when Michael placed a call to 911 saying that his wife had fallen off the stairs. It was 2:40 AM and by the time help came, Kathleen was dead. This was the beginning of The Staircase Michael Peterson's trial.

The case garnered much media attention, and the Petersons' family secrets were made public. Some of the shreds of evidence that the prosecutor used to support the claim that the retired American soldier had a motive to kill Kathleen include:

  • The family had a credit card debt of about $140,000 at the time;
  • Kathleen was the primary source of the family income;
  • Kathleen had life insurance worth about $1.4 million;
  • Investigators discovered that Michael was bisexual;
  • The prosecutors suggested that the wife recently discovered Michael's sexuality before her death and wanted a divorce. They opined that since Michael was the broke one, he didn't want the divorce to happen and orchestrated Kathleen Peterson's death;
  • The prosecutors found a way to connect Michael to the death of Elizabeth, the mother of his adoptive daughters.

By 2003, Michael was sentenced to life in prison without the benefit of parole. But unfortunately for him, judges of different courts of law turned down several attempts to appeal the case.

Retrial and freedom

Things turned around in 2010 when it was discovered that Duane Deaver, one of the blood experts that provided insights at Michael's trial, deliberately withheld some essential facts from the defence attorney.

Mike's case was reopened for retrial in 2011, and he was granted a bail of $300,000. At the same time, he was placed under house arrest with a location tracker on his ankle. Nevertheless, after several failed attempts by Michael's lawyers to make the court dismiss the charges against their client, they decided to enter an Alford Plea in 2017.

The Alford plea means that the retired American soldier was saying that although there was enough evidence to convict him of the murder, he is convinced of his innocence. However, the judge found him guilty of manslaughter and handed him 86 months of jail time in the end.

Michael Peterson
Michael Peterson behind bars. Photo: @genwhypod
Source: Twitter

Since Michael had already served jail time between 2003 and 2011, there was no need for him to be sent to prison again, and he immediately became a free man. So, is Michael Peterson still alive? Yes, he is.

The challenges that Peterson faced inspired Netflix's The Staircase documentary. The series x-rayed his life as a man convicted and believed to have been involved in the identical death of two women close to him.

Where is Michael Peterson now?

It is natural to ask questions like, "how is Michael Peterson doing?" Since he got his freedom, Michael now lives in Durham, NC, US. Interestingly, his current house is without stairs, and the reason is apparent.

How much is Michael Peterson worth?

According to Celebrity Net Worth, ex-convict Michael Peterson's net worth is estimated at $500,000. He is the author of books like A Time of War, The Immortal Dragon, and A Bitter Peace.

Interestingly, Michael Peterson's books about his staircase brouhaha have received high ratings in Amazon, even though he cannot keep the proceeds to himself because of the restrictions from the law. So, consequently, he donates them to charity organisations instead.

People who know about Michael Peterson's story have different opinions about whether he really committed the murders or not. It is difficult, and Tupac's Only God Can Judge me track is the only consolation for everyone.

Ian Rapoport is one of the highly respected television analysts with years of experience. As published on Yen.com.gh, although his initial plan was to study law, he later found fulfilment covering sports for Spectator.

The television analyst worked part-time in the sports department of his local newspaper, the Journal News. Afterwards, he landed a full-time job at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, which gave him the opportunity of covering Mississippi State football.

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