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Michael Peterson Murder Trial Focused on Blood, Money

Aired July 7, 2003 - 19:20   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the trial of Michael Peterson came screeching to a halt today. That's right, I said Michael Peterson.
We told you a little bit about the case last week. Michael Peterson is a North Carolina novelist, also a former columnist, charged with murdering his wife, Kathleen, by sending her down a flight of stairs.

Court TV's Vinnie Politan has been covering the trial. He joins us now from Raleigh.

Vinnie, thanks very much. Tell us a little bit about what happened in the courtroom today. There was a lot of talk about money.

VINNIE POLITAN, COURT-TV REPORTER: There was a lot of talk about money. Really, that's what the prosecution says the motive is in this case. They had a lot of money but in order to keep up that lifestyle, the prosecuting says that Michael Peterson killed his wife to get the life insurance, $1.4 million worth of it.

And today we had an investigator who looked at the financial picture of the Peterson family, the household, trying to determine what sort of financial state were they in.

Well, once he got into the testimony about this cash flow analysis, about money coming into the house, and money being spent by members of the household, the defense said time out. You know, they're producing some documents, some reports that we haven't seen. We need some time to review it, go over with our experts so we're prepared to cross-examine this guy. So they stopped at about 1 p.m. today.

COOPER: And there are really two -- you often say there are two words this case is all about. What are they?

POLITAN: Blood and money so far in the testimony that we've heard.

The blood testimony we heard from the first responders, the emergency medical workers who showed up at the scene and described what they said was a large amount of blood: blood on the staircase, blood on the wall, blood on the victim, blood on the...

COOPER: And this is important, because Mr. Peterson is basically alleging that his wife fell down the stairs. And what the first responders are saying is they've been on cases where people have died by falling down the stairs and they have never seen so much blood.

POLITAN: Never saw that much blood, never saw that much dried blood, which could be very important because now you're talking about the lapse of time.

So if, in fact, the prosecution theory is true, you would have some dried blood there because he didn't call 911 immediately. First he would have beaten her to death, let her die there, some of the blood would have dried on the wall and then you call 911. That's, of course, according to the prosecution.

COOPER: And the money is important because basically the -- not only is the prosecution saying that Mr. Peterson killed his wife for monetary gain, but basically that they were living above -- their lifestyle was above their income. And that she knew in fact that she maybe was going get laid off or they discuss that she might get laid off from her job and that was the main income they were getting.

POLITAN: Well, that point is actually being contended, whether or not they knew she might get laid off. She worked for Nortel which had seen its stock go from $80 down to about $8. So they kind of knew that things weren't great at Nortel.

And we heard some testimony that she was on a list to be "optimized," which is euphemism for being laid off. And it's not clear whether or not she knew she was on that list. But the prosecution, I'm sure, will argue that she had some idea that she might be next in line to be fired.

COOPER: All right. Vinnie Politan from Court-TV, appreciate you joining us for an update. Thanks very much.

Well, Kathleen Peterson's daughter, Caitlin Atwater is suing Michael Peterson for wrongful death and her attorney, Jay Trery joins us now, also from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Jay, thanks for being with us. Why is your client suing her stepfather?

JAY TRERY, REPRESENTS CAITLIN ATWATER: Well, it's more or less a backup plan. Mr. Peterson has hired the very best in defense. David Rudolph is an excellent attorney. He's got a tremendous team, not just Tom Irving (ph) but some of the people in his office.

And if he gets away with murder in the criminal case, she's prepared to pursue him civilly to make sure he doesn't profit from this -- from this murder.

COOPER: How is your client holding up in all of this? We're seeing a video picture of her from inside the court. I mean, she's a young girl, she's 20 years old. How is she dealing with all of this?

TRERY: Remarkably well when you take into account her age.

But she's a young woman who has lost her mother. She's just 20. She's had this enormous responsibility placed upon her as administratrix to her mother's estate. And she's having to fight this battle for justice.

That's what gives her strength, but you can imagine the anxiety, the depression, the horror that she has to put up with, especially when they flashed gruesome pictures of her mother lying in her own pool of blood.

COOPER: There are other siblings involved in all of this. Most of them have stayed by Mr. Peterson. When was it that Caitlin decided she felt something was amiss?

TRERY: Let me first remark that the siblings are two sons of Michael Peterson and two wards of Michael Peterson. They are not -- they've been under his influence for a lot longer than has Caitlin. And I think it shows because they don't want to believe and they have the tunnel vision in terms of looking at the evidence, but...

COOPER: Was there a moment that Caitlin, though, said, suddenly decided, you know what, this thing looks fishy?

TRERY: Well, from the beginning, things looked fishy. But what really did it for her, at least initially, were the autopsy results, which are pretty amazing if you want to claim that someone initially fell down a flight of steps. Now they're saying that she just fell down a couple of steps.

But when you see that many gashes to the back of the head, that much defensive wounds, that much blood, that much blood splatter, it becomes hard to believe that it came from a fall. It belies common sense.

COOPER: You know all the attorneys involved in all of this. It's going to be a tough trial, isn't it? I mean, the defense has some great attorneys.

TRERY: The defense has superb attorneys. Can't say enough about David Rudolph as a person, as a husband, as a father, and as a lawyer.

But even he has -- will have a difficult time getting past the evidence in this case. He's going to have to bring in experts to explain away what common sense would tell you can't be true.

COOPER: All right. Jay Trery, appreciate you joining us to talk about your client, Caitlin. Thank you very much.


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