--E-mail from Michael Peterson to Brent Wolgamott, retrieved from Peterson's computer
Short of depolymerization, remove it to the out-of-doors. Go to the basement or garage and secure a heavy, blunt object. Don protective gear, goggles and gloves, and batter away until the ... thing is utterly flattened, burn the remains and hurl them into the sea.
Security is useless: You will be busted.
The results of what Mike Peterson accomplished through his efforts to remove material from his computer in the hours preceding and following the death of his wife were about as effective as trying to keep ants out of the kitchen. But as bad as it might be having your private kinks kicked around and pawed over by folks who you might not like doing so, think about the "Hey, Ma" moment experienced by Mr. Brent "Brad" Wolgamott.
"Bombshell," said the nooz.
Bombshell my eye. I read Peterson's homoerotic fiction months ago. When the coffee-shop Sherlocks started clucking "Oh-my-God, he did what?" I yawned and idly flipped to the comics to see what Cathy was up to. Ho hum.
No surprises there. Just another aging switch-hitter on the down low trying, vampirelike, to hang on to fleeting libido. The kooky stuff was the fatherly advice given young "Brad" by Michael in career planning--ruing perhaps opportunities missed. "I always wonder what my life would have been as a porn star. My Cecil B. DeMille moment was poster boy for the Marines, posters in every recruit office in America."
So the plan was to get "Brad" up for a little fuckin' and suckin' , pat his head and send him off to Palm Springs and the resort of "legendary" military porn specialist Dirk Yates. "I knew lots of guys who got paid--'why whack off in a latrine when Dirk'll give you a $100,'" Peterson wrote. "Check out the guys and the resort. Then go hang out -- audition!" So he did. He blew off the date with Peterson and the next morning flew off to Palm Springs to lollygag with Dirk and the boys for a couple of days.
A few columns back, I said "all the snakes and bugs and spiders" were slithering out of the chest. I jumped the gun--now the lid is really off, and the prosecution's case is entering the boost phase toward the apogee. But it's not "Brad." It's blood.
I had no idea.
Two months back, I didn't know nuthin bout no Mistah Peterson, nuttin' bout no murder. And I certainly didn't know anything about what a good blood stain expert could divine from the splatter-fest in the stairwell of 1805 Cedar Street. I do now, since the voir dire hearing establishing the expertise of SBI blood stain analyst Peter Duane Deaver is over and he is cleared to testify in front of the jury. Hoo boy. Things do not bode well for Mr. Peterson.
Rudolf did a typically superb job of whuppin up on Deaver before the jury, but when the jury was sent home and the hearing began, I watched this quiet career investigator wif a big-ass gun under his coat methodically describe in nano-detail what 42 drops of blood can tell. And man, it ain't pretty.
Deaver enabled me to visualize the scene with the precision of a computer screen, a sequence of bright flares of in space floating above the stairs, different colored (for clarity) trajectories of sprayed blood fanning out and arcing through the air, striking the walls and floor. Deaver claims it went down like this:
The terminal assault started on stair 12 (six up from 18, the bottom step) with a blow "in space" marked by a small spatter and cast-off (blood slung from a weapon via deceleration).
An unknown number of blows, the points of contact in space prescribing an arc away and down toward the far wall and corner of the stairwell, one drop nicking the edge of the chair-lift and splatting on the wall behind it.
More blows--the head impacting stair tread 17 and 16 slightly above or on the surface, like I had figured.
An impossible clean-up attempt of a portion of the wall and stair 17--no easy feat given the tenacious nature of goopy, coagulating blood.
And finally, after the cleanup, another blow that deposited blood on the cleaned stair.
The most damning tales of all were two fan-shaped spatters on a pair of khaki shorts and spatter on a pair of Converse sneakers showing that either the source of blood, the shoes, or both were in motion at time of contact.
At the crime scene, Durham police investigators Dan George and Eric Campen were unable to grasp what Deaver was even doing. The man's methods involve experience, higher math, clear thinking and some truly deranged Underwriter Laboratories-type experiments: whapping a blood soaked Styrofoam head (blood courtesy of the Red Cross) with a wooden dowel until it broke ... let me see ... this iron rod'll do; leading a lesson of 20 or SBI guys in blood-stomping (leaving one to wonder if it was free-form stomping or something more organized like, say, the Rockettes).
Whew. Heady stuff. Defense was overruled. Deaver testifies, as does everybody else, from Brent Wolgamott to a state Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radische ... and probably on the Ratliff issue.
Dr. Radische testifying on Kathleen's death is one thing. The defense is going to have some 'splainin' to do about the thyroid cartilage and the defensive injuries. But, given the strength of that evidence, I'm still leery about Dr. Radische being allowed to perform the second Ratliff autopsy--and upgrade the death from the original finding of a fall to a beating. After all, the part of Ratliff's brain believed originally to have caused the death through hemorrhage has vanished.
See, as unsavory as the "Brad" business was, it was germane as a source of potential marital discord. It is important to have the jury consider the truth of the Peterson marriage and the emotional factors that could lead to a violent explosion and death. But, if Hardin decides to drag the Ratliff death in, he could be setting the stage for some trouble at the N.C. Court of Appeals.
Rules 403 and 404b. Rule 403, Exclusion of Relevant Evidence on Grounds of Prejudice, Confusion or Waste of Time, states: "Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." Rule 404b refers to "other crimes, wrongs or acts." If a prior act happened long enough ago, the appeals court can overturn a conviction. Bob Brown, the Durham County public defender, told me that in one case, evidence 20 years old was disallowed, whereas in another case 16 years of distance was permitted. The Ratliff death was 18 years ago--and that is a legal razor edge. That Rudolf opened the door on Ratliff in his opening argument may make 403 and 404b useless. He had to do it, given the evidentiary roadhouse free-for-all of a Hudson courtroom. Now all Rudolf can hope for is to confuse the jury--something lawyers of his caliber master like breathing.
The primary avenue for a conviction is for the jury to accept Deaver's testimony--and to put Michael Peterson in Michael Peterson's blood-soaked clothes.
Kathleen Peterson was beaten like a dog. But that may not have been the actual murder. Assessing the injuries, there is a chance that with immediate medical attention, she may have lived--and that would have been assault. Conversely, if she had died immediately from the beating, one could argue second-degree murder, that it was a killing of passion.
But if the grievously injured woman, life literally seeping onto that polished floor, was still alive and someone wasted precious minutes futzing up the scene (leaving blood in the wine cabinet), the act of murder was squandering enough time before calling 911 that the blood--all the spatters, stains and puddles--became mostly dry.
Peter Eichenberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org