Defense: Former SBI expert's tests severely flawed

Michael Peterson
December 6, 2011 9:00:00 PM PST
Convicted murderer Michael Peterson wants a new trial and his defense team is attacking the credibility of a former SBI agent to get one.

The Durham novelist, who was convicted of killing his wife 10 years ago, is seeking a new trial based on alleged SBI crime lab mistakes.

Kathleen Peterson's body was found at the bottom of a stairwell in the couple's million-dollar mansion Dec. 9, 2001. According to investigators, she was beaten to death with a fireplace poker by her angry husband. Peterson has said he didn't do it.

SBI veteran agent Duane Deaver was a key witness against Peterson during that trial.

The assistant SBI director testified Wednesday that SBI agents are trained for courtroom testimony and that instructors handling Deaver's training for testimony showed he had a strong bias toward the prosecution as a witness.

Peterson's defense attorney David Rudolf also claimed that Deaver's recreation experiments were severely flawed and not widely practiced by other agents.

Peterson said in an interview with ABC11 last month that the jury in his 2003 trial never would've believed Deaver's testimony if they knew about accusations that have been leveled against him since then.

An independent review of the SBI lab's work found that SBI agents helped prosecutors obtain convictions over a 16-year period by misrepresenting blood evidence and keeping critical notes from defense lawyers. Agent Deaver testified at an innocence hearing that the SBI had a policy of releasing reports to the court that said evidence showed an indication for the presence of blood, based on a first test. If a test to confirm the results came back negative, that information was in the agent's notes, but was not included in the court report.

Peterson was granted a hearing after filing an appeal earlier this year based on those findings.

On the second day of the hearing, Durham DA Tracey Cline cross-examined SBI Assistant Director Eric Hooks in an effort to point out that Deaver's reports were scientifically correct and signed off on by his supervisors. She also attempted to justify Deaver's recreation experiments.

Peterson's case is just one caught up in a much publicized squabble between Cline and Judge Orlando Hudson. Cline has accused the judge of malicious conduct against her, but lost her bid Monday to have him removed from the case. Judge Carl Fox said affidavits presented by Cline did not prove her claims.

Peterson has nearly exhausted his avenues for an appeal with theories ranging from an owl attacked Kathleen on that ill-fated night, to a crowbar found in a neighbor's yard.

Deaver has since been fired from the SBI and NC Attorney General Roy Cooper has made sweeping changes at the bureau. Deaver is appealing his firing.

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