What Happened To Michael Peterson From The Staircase?

In the early morning hours of December 9, 2001, police arrived at 1810 Cedar St. in Durham, North Carolina. There, they found the bloodied body of Kathleen Peterson at the foot of the back staircase, per the News and Observer. She had bled out. Despite his claims that she must have accidentally fallen, Kathleen's husband, the novelist Michael Peterson, was soon arrested and charged with her murder.

Following his arrest, Peterson became the subject of the Netflix miniseries "The Staircase," which documented his eventual conviction for his wife's murder. Peterson was found guilty in October 2003 after over 13 weeks on trial, one of the longest in North Carolina history, according to an Associated Press report published by The Dispatch.

Peterson was sentenced to life in prison without parole. However, Peterson and his court-appointed lawyer, Thomas Maher, filed an appeal in 2006. Peterson's requests for a new trial were repeatedly denied over the next few years. Yet Peterson and his on-again, off-again lawyer, David Rudolf, were eventually able to arrange a retrial in 2011, following the termination of one of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation's analysts. The blood spatter analyst, Duane Deaver, who had been one of the principal witnesses in Peterson's case, was fired after news came out that he had lied about his qualifications and misrepresented evidence in Peterson's trial, according to Metro. As a result, Michael Peterson was released from prison as he awaited his new trial (via ABC 11).

Michael Peterson submitted an Alford plea in 2017

In 2017, Michael Peterson submitted an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter, which allowed him to publicly maintain his innocence while still acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict. Nevertheless, courts can consider an Alford a guilty plea. According to WRAL, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson found Peterson guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He sentenced Peterson to 86 months in prison (via Women's Health). However, Judge Hudson released Peterson on time served. Altogether, Peterson spent eight years in prison, from 2003 to 2011.

At the time of his release from prison in 2011, Peterson said to the media, "I have waited over eight years, 2,988 days as a matter of fact, and I counted for an opportunity to have a retrial. I want to thank Judge Hudson for giving me that opportunity so that I can vindicate myself and prove my innocence in a fair trial this time" (per ABC News).

In 2018, Netflix released three new episodes of Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's documentary (the trailer is on YouTube). The story continues, following Peterson through his second trial, reports Vogue. As with the previous installments of the series, Lestrade leaves viewers to come to their own conclusions about Peterson's guilt, writes Express.

Michael Peterson now lives in a house without stairs

Many may wonder where Peterson is now. In July 2020, the infamous five-story Cedar St. mansion was put up for sale for the third time since Kathleen Peterson's death. Per the News and Observer, Michael Peterson has not owned the home since he sold it to Jason Balius for $640,000 in 2004. However, according to most recent reports, Peterson still lives in Durham and maintains his innocence.

Of Peterson's living arrangements, his attorney, David Rudolf, said at the 2019 CrimeCon, "He's living in Durham — I'm not sure why he's living in Durham, but he is." Rudolf continued with the joke, "He's in a ground floor apartment with no stairs — that was a really important accommodation," reports Oxygen.

We do know that until 2021, Peterson didn't live alone. Those familiar with the documentary and the trial will recognize Patricia "Patty" Peterson, Michael Peterson's ex-wife. According to Oxygen, after Michael's release, he lived with Patty until her death in 2021 at the age of 78. Her son Clayton Peterson told the press that she died of a massive heart attack. Clayton said, of his mother's relationship with her ex-husband Michael Peterson, "They were companions. They took care of each other."

Patty Peterson defended Michael during two separate staircase-related deaths

Before Michael met Kathleen Peterson, he was married to Patty Peterson for almost 30 years. In a strange turn of events, Patty stood by Michael's side in not one but two staircase-related death investigations, reports Oxygen. In 1985, Michael and Patty lived in Germany. There, Patty worked as an elementary school teacher for military children as a part of the U.S. Department of Defense, writes Bustle. One night Michael drove Patty's friend, 43-year-old Elizabeth Ratliff, home after she'd visited the Petersons' house (via Oxygen). The following morning, Ratliff's housekeeper found her dead at the bottom of her home's stairs (per Cheatsheet).

At the time, Ratliff's death was ruled an accident. Evidence pointed toward a cerebral hemorrhage, which caused her to fall down the stairs. After Kathleen's death, however, Elizabeth's body was exhumed, and North Carolina authorities changed her cause of death to murder. Patty and Michael took legal custody of Ratliff's children, Martha and Margaret Ratliff.

After Michael and Patty divorced in 1994, Michael moved back to North Carolina, according to Cheatsheet. Later, after Kathleen's death, Patty stood by Michael, convinced of his innocence. "He is innocent of any involvement in Kathleen's death," Patty told reporters. "I've always believed he did not do this, and I always will" (via Bustle). Michael Peterson's first wife provided him with financial support, including a loan of $168,000 for legal expenses. "She was a kind person," said Clayton Peterson, after her death. "She touched so many lives."

Michael Peterson continues to write novels and memoirs

Following his release from prison, Peterson has written several books, including a memoir detailing a behind-the-scenes account of his trial, imprisonment, and life after release, according to the News and Observer. The book, titled "Behind the Staircase," was self-published in 2019. Free downloads of the book are available online. A re-edited version was released in 2020 under the name "Beyond the Staircase."

Before Kathleen's death, Michael worked as a journalist for the local newspaper, the Durham Herald-Sun, according to Romper. His articles would later become a liability during his trial. "Michael had written a number of stories that were really critical of the Durham Police Department or the Mayor's Office. He was not a friendly columnist. He was caustic and sarcastic and mean sometimes," Michael's lawyer, David Rudolf, explained during a talk at the 2019 CrimeCon. "He was convinced it was going to be payback time once he got charged" (via Oxygen).

However, Peterson hasn't stopped writing. In 2015, he published a memoir titled "Barely Breathing," about his father's death. Before his trial and imprisonment, Michael had written three novels inspired by his service during the Vietnam war. He also co-written two other non-fiction books, titled "Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company" and "Operation Broken Reed," reports Women's Health. He recently returned to fiction with his 2020 novel "Atman: A Novel About Evil," a mystery set in Germany, writes Romper.

Colin Firth plays Michael Peterson in HBO's The Staircase

As the current Michael Peterson somewhat slips into obscurity, the story of Kathleen's death and Michael's subsequent trial still holds strong in the world of true crime entertainment. The most recent re-telling transforms the Peterson family story into a prestige drama miniseries. The Netflix docuseries closely follows the investigation and trial. In contrast, the fictionalized HBO Max eight-part drama focuses on Kathleen's life and how her death affects the Peterson's children and extended family. Show creators Antonio Campos and Maggie Cohn explained their approach to Vanity Fair. "What we knew of her was this tragic ending at the bottom of a staircase," they said. "But what we didn't see was this big, complicated, and beautiful life that she had before that" (via Bustle).

"The Staircase" (the trailer is posted on YouTube) boasts a respected and talented celebrity cast. Colin Firth takes on Michael Peterson opposite Toni Collette as Kathleen. Other cast members include Michael Stuhlbart, Parker Posey, Juliette Binoche, and Sophie Turner (via NPR). Insider reports that the actors can't help but speculate about the case. Of Michael Peterson, Parker Posey said, "I don't want to think that he did something like that. He's such an interesting person. He's such a character." And frustratingly, the only person who will ever know the truth of the matter — despite the many times popular culture revisits the case — is Michael Peterson himself.