Attorney alleges evidence in Peterson case kept secret

September 22, 2008 8:13:22 PM PDT
According to Michael Peterson's newly hired defense attorney, court documents and photographs filed away on the top floor of Durham County courthouse hint at a possible murder weapon that police and prosecutors failed to mention during Peterson's murder trial. Jason Anthony, a Richmond-based attorney, tells Eyewitness News that a man living a third of a mile from the Peterson home told authorities he found a tire iron in his yard on December 10, 2001, the day after Kathleen Peterson's death.

Among thirty boxes of evidence, Anthony said his researcher discovered a handwritten letter dated September 2, 2003 and signed by Larry Mitchell of Durham.

Mitchell said he kept the tire iron in his basement for several months until he read an article about the search for a murder weapon, possibly a tire iron. Fearing he had a potential piece of evidence in the Peterson case, he contacted a detective.

But, it would take two years for an investigator to check out the potential lead, according to Anthony.

"In the Duke [Lacrosse] case, they [defense attorneys] had a scent trail," said Anthony,"They could follow that scent trail and find out what they were given and what they were not given. This [tire iron] was stolen from the defense in such a way that there is no way that the defense could've known about [this] short of asking all Durham residents if they'd found a tire iron."

Anthony's argument is one of many presented to the Durham County District Attorney in an effort to exonerate convicted murderer Michael Peterson, a Durham novelist whose conviction made national headlines.

Peterson was sentenced to life in prison after his wife's death in December 2001. Defense attorneys contend Kathleen Peterson's death was from a tragic fall down a flight of stairs in the couple's 11,000 square foot home. But, prosecutors argued Peterson savagely beat his wife with a fireplace tool. Its mysterious disappearance became the focus of the high profile murder trial.

During the early stages of the case, investigators took photographs of a bloody imprint on the steps of the stairwell where Kathleen Peterson's body was found. At one point, investigators said that the imprint resembled a tire iron.

A K9 officer was shown a picture of the bloody imprint on the night of the murder and was instructed to search outside the home. Several months later, a Durham resident would report finding a tire iron in his yard.

Peterson's attorney believes the tire iron could've supported an intruder theory.

"They focused on a murder weapon that didn't exist," said Anthony, "They focused on a [blow poke] that was absent. And its absence made it exist. They did an entire trial focusing around what an item of that weight and that length would do. In fact, if the tire iron was the murder weapon, it would've changed the entire dynamic of the trial." Durham District Attorney David Saacks said the tire iron was never missing and was submitted to the SBI lab. Because tests results showed no fingerprints, blood or hair on the tool, Saacks said it wasn't considered relevant to the case.

"It was not the weapon and it clearly didn't have anything to do with it,"said Saacks, "I don't think this is something that's going to cause the injuries that Kathleen suffered. We were looking for something long and lightweight."

Saacks said blows from a tire iron would have likely fractured Kathleen Peterson's skull which was undamaged in the attack. He said if a tire iron was the weapon, it would have contradicted expert witness testimony during the trial, including those for the defense.

Because of the two-year delay to investigate the tire iron Peterson's attorney said it's grounds to challenge his client's conviction. Hee intends to file motions related to the issue in the coming weeks.


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