Michael Peterson walked out of the Durham County Courthouse on Friday a free man after entering an Alford plea to the charge of voluntary manslaughter in the killing of his wife, Kathleen Peterson, in 2001
The Alford plea allows Peterson, a novelist and former Herald Sun
columnist, to accept a guilty verdict without admitting guilt
. Convicted of first degree-murder in 2003, Peterson served eight years in prison before that conviction was overturned by a judge in 2011. He has already served ninety-eight months in prison, not including house arrest, more than the eighty-six-month maximum sentence his plea agreement carries.
After Judge Orlando Hudson declared that the court would accept the plea, Peterson reiterated—as he has since 2002—that he did not kill Kathleen Peterson. Peterson and his attorney, David Rudolf, also claimed that prosecutors had turned some of his family members against him, especially Kathleen’s daughter, Caitlin
Here's Peterson and Rudolf speaking to reporters after the hearing:
Kathleen's sisters, Candace Zamperini and Lori Campbell, addressed the courtroom. Zamperini, reading an emotional statement that she worked on for ten days, did not back down from her opinion that Peterson had beaten and murdered her sister. "Alford Schmalford,” she said, directing her comments to Peterson. “It means nothing—guilty
Zamperini said she has waited fifteen years for Peterson to admit guilt, and although his plea allows him to publicly maintain his innocence, it's "as close to justice as anything. Not perfect justice, but justice.”
During her comments to the court, Zamperini briefly went off-script, accusing Peterson and Rudolf of "intentional intimidation," lambasting a French documentary series about the case
, and skewering the defense's attempts to discredit the theory that a fireplace poker with a six-inch, hooked tip had been the murder weapon.
Check out the INDY's full coverage of the Michael Peterson case here
, including an exclusive interview with Kathleen Peterson's daughter.