'The Staircase': Where Is Michael Peterson Now? (2024)

Max's (formerly HBO Max) truecrimeseriesThe Staircasechronicles the lengthy saga ofMichael Peterson, a novelist and military veteran who was convicted of killing his wife, Kathleen Peterson, who died on the stairs in their Durham, N.C., home in December 2001.

While there have been several retellings of the chilling case, likeNetflix's 2018 docuseriesof the same name, Max's rendition strives to reveal untold sides and different angles of the harrowing story, withColin Firthportraying Michael oppositeToni Colletteas Kathleen.

Despiteactors playing the people involved, the miniseries is very much a true story, including a North Carolina judge granting his retrial in 2011.

Keep reading to learn more about Michael and where he is now.

Who is Michael Peterson?

'The Staircase': Where Is Michael Peterson Now? (1)

Michael was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1943 before moving to work for the U.S. Department of Defense after college. He later met his first wife, Patricia Sue, an elementary school teacher, in West Germany. They wed in 1968 and had two boys together, Todd and Clayton.

After serving in the Vietnam War, he began to write novels and newspaper columns about his experiences following his honorable discharge in 1971. While living together, Michael and Patricia became close with their neighbors-turned-friends George and Elizabeth Ratliff.

CNN reportedthat George died from a military accident in 1983, and in 1985, Elizabeth was found dead at the foot of her staircase with head injuries.

Michael and Patricia later divorced, and not long after, he moved in with telecoms exec Kathleen Atwater before eventually tying the knot in 1997.

In 2001, Kathleen was found unconscious at the bottom of their staircase in Durham, N.C. She was later pronounced dead.

What crimes did Michael Peterson commit?

'The Staircase': Where Is Michael Peterson Now? (2)

Michael was seemingly innocent at first as he was the one who dialed 911 after finding Kathleen at the base of their steps.

According to Detective Art Holland of Durham police (via NBC News), Kathleen was "splayed out on the floor, her head resting on the landing of a back staircase" — details that sparked suspicion due to the close similarities to Elizabeth's death in 1985.

Michael suggested that Kathleen fell down the stairs after drinking too much alcohol and Valium, but no fingerprints were detected on the wine bottle or glasses out in the kitchen.

Kathleen was apparently bludgeoned to death after a medical examiner noticed several lacerations on her scalp. The dried blood atop her head was a clue that she'd been there for a while, and since Michael was the only person in the house at that time, he was the only suspect.

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What was Michael Peterson's sentence?

'The Staircase': Where Is Michael Peterson Now? (3)

The prosecution suggested that Michael killed his wife after they got into a fight supposedly initiated by Kathleen's discovery of more than 2,000 explicit images of men on Michael's computer. Emails in conversation with a young male escort he was planning on reuniting with after meeting a few months prior were also found.

The defense, however, disputed that Kathleen was accepting of Michael's bisexuality, asWRAL News reported, and that the blow poke (a hollow tube instead of a solid metal stick) he allegedly used to strike her suffered no damage, nor had any remnants of blood on it.

On Oct. 10, 2003, the jury found Michael guilty of Kathleen's murder and sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole.

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Where is Michael Peterson now?

'The Staircase': Where Is Michael Peterson Now? (4)

A retrial was later ordered after the judge vacated the jury's verdict in 2011, finding that the blood splatter analysts gave false and misleading testimony in the first trial, resulting in an unsound conviction.

In 2017, Michael submitted an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter. This means that the person accused of murder can admit that there's enough evidence to convict them but not admit guilt for committing the crime.

Michael was resentenced to 86 weeks in prison but was officially freed in 2017 since he had already served more than that time. He resides in Durham, N.C., but has since sold the house where Kathleen died. (The house was on the market for $1.9 million,according to ABC 11 News.)

He had been living with his ex-wife, Patricia, for two years until her death from a heart attack, his son ClaytontoldThe News & Observerin 2021.

"He's in a ground floor apartment with no stairs — that was a really important accommodation," Defense Attorney David Rudolf said of his former client at CrimeCon in New Orleans,perOxygen.

'The Staircase': Where Is Michael Peterson Now? (2024)
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