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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Defense Claim Police Too Willing to Treat Peterson Death As A Murder

Aired July 11, 2003 - 19:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well I want to go now to the other Peterson trial the one we've been following for a while. This, of course, the one from novelist Michael Peterson who allegedly murdered his wife, according to the state at least. The case has reignited tensions between the defendant and the police. Now you'll remember Peterson is charged with sending his wife to her death down a flight of stairs a year and a half ago 16 years after a family friend died in a similar fall. Now, Peterson's lawyers are coming down hard on police much like Peterson himself did back when he was a newspaper columnist.
Joining us to bring us up to speed is Tom Gasparoli of the "Durham, North Carolina Herald-Sun." Appreciate you joining us again, Tom. It's good to speak to you again. Tell us about the latest that has been coming out in the courtroom. Now there's been a lot of focus on the money trail, whether or not they were in financial hardship. What have we learned?

TOM GASPAROLI, JOURNALIST "DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA HERALD-SUN": Well, earlier this week there was a lot of talk about the finances. About whether that could be a primary motive, a central motive, an overwhelming motive. Frankly, I think it showed that they were pretty well off. It showed that the Petersons had a lot of debt, were worried about her job, had less financial security, considerably less, than they'd had five years before, but that he would probably do pretty well if she died because of life insurance and he would do pretty well if she remained alive.

Then today and yesterday, they moved into the early police arrival, the sense of a lot of blood for an accident, and then Dave Rudolph, Peterson's defense attorney, a very competent attorney, began questioning whether or not the scene was properly protected and started talking about whether it could have been contaminated.

COOPER: And that certainly seems -- that seems like it's going to be major focus of the defense at this point, at least, trying to sort of cast doubts about the police and their abilities and perhaps their willingness to investigate this thoroughly.

GASPAROLI: Well absolutely. In fact, there's going to be some suggestion they were willing to investigate thoroughly. Perhaps willing to not consider it an accident as well as they should have, but in fact, look at it a as a murderer early on, because Peterson who was my predecessor at the "Herald-Sun" had been critical of police. There have already been intimations about that from Mr. Rudolph. We haven't seen that head on. We will see that maybe full steam ahead. Mr. Rudolph has never used the word frame or conspiracy as far as I've seen but perhaps that the police had a rush to judgment. We haven't seen it yet, though.

COOPER: And how is Michael Peterson acting throughout this, I mean, both in the courtroom and outside?

GASPAROLI: Well, I haven't seen him much outside. He's been very low key outside during the trial. He was not so low key in the year and a half before it. Yesterday, Anderson, they played the 911 call which Raleigh-Durham has heard before, but the nation really hasn't. Very powerful. When he called 911 frantic and hysterical by all accounts.

He, Mr. Peterson essentially broke down during the playing of that, cried very hard. His step daughters were crying, I believe family members on Kathleen Peterson's side were crying. It was an emotional moment, and I think, you know, the jury is going to listen to that call more than once to see what it tells them about his demeanor.

COOPER: There's so much information floating around outside the courtroom, I mean, in the media, some of the stuff you've written, you know, about his temper, or alleged temper that he suddenly gets very, very angry, uncontrollably so. Also, other stories about him, I mean, this family friend who sort of died under mysterious circumstances -- very similar circumstances -- to his wife, falling down a flight of stairs several years ago. How much or any of this is going to get into the courtroom?

GASPAROLI: Well, the story of what happened to Elizabeth Ratliff 18 years ago in Germany found at the bottom of stairs in a lot of blood, found later to lacerations -- many lacerations -- on the back of her head after an exhumation. It's going to be controversial whether it gets into court but I thing it will get into court. David Rudolph has already addressed it in its opening argument thinking it will and claims that it was an accident. However, he's also going to object, I believe, when Mr. Harden, the prosecutor, tries to get it in.

You have to ask yourself if two women in his life that he was close to died at the bottom of the stairs, he may have been the last person to see them alive, the jury is going look at that and I think that will affect the way they look at all the other evidence in the Peterson case.

COOPER: Alright, Tom Gasparoli, appreciate you joining us again. I've been following your articles on this, their really good and appreciate you taking time to speak to us.

GASPAROLI: Thanks Andy.

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