Peterson to take manslaughter plea deal

Mike Peterson in a CBS North Carolina file photo

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Durham novelist Michael Peterson will end the long-running legal saga stemming from his wife’s death by accepting a deal that will see him convicted of manslaughter but leave him a free man, CBS North Carolina has learned.

Peterson is expected to enter an Alford plea, which means that he will stipulate that there is enough evidence to convict him while continuing to maintain his innocence and be sentenced to time already served, CBS North Carolina has learned.

The judge does not have to accept the deal.

Peterson is accused of killing his wife, Kathleen, in 2001. Her body was found on a staircase in the couple’s Durham mansion. He was convicted in 2003 and spent eight years in prison before winning a new trial.

District Attorney Roger Echols declined to comment on the case.

Alford pleas are common in state court, said Scott Holmes, a law professor at North Carolina Central University.

“It allows the state to resolve the case by having a conviction, and it allows the defendant to have a penalty that he can accept without having to admit guilt,” he said.

Strategically speaking, it can be a risk worth taking, he said.

“If you are facing life without parole, and if you roll the dice and the jury comes back and you stay in jail for life, but what they are offering you is a period of time that you’ve already served in jail, like you can get out today, if you will accept this deal,” Holmes said.

A hearing in the case is scheduled later this month.

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