DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — A Durham novelist originally sentenced to life in prison in 2003 for the death of his wife at their North Carolina mansion is leaving a courthouse officially a free man Friday.
“The court does find that he has served his time and he is free to go,” judge Orlando Hudson said.
Michael Peterson accepted a deal that allows him to enter what’s called an Alford plea, maintaining his innocence while agreeing that prosecutors have the evidence to convict him.
The plea deal calls for Peterson to be convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
The body of his wife Kathleen was found at the bottom of a staircase in their Durham mansion in 2001.
He was freed from prison in 2011 when a judge ordered a new trial.
“It has always been, and remains today, the State’s position that Michael Peterson is responsible for the death of Kathleen Peterson,” District Attorney Roger Echols said in a news release after the hearing.
The decision to strike a plea deal was made in consultation with Kathleen Peterson’s family, Echols said.
“It is my sincere hope that the final disposition of this case provides a measure of justice as they continue to honor Kathleen’s memory,” he said.
Defense attorney David Rudolf emphasized that Peterson, even accepting the plea, maintains his innocence.
“The bottom line is that Peterson is not guilty,” Rudolf said during the hearing. “He did not get a fair trial.”
Kathleen Peterson’s sister said that she has long believed in Peterson’s guilt and that the important part of the plea deal is his conviction, not his insistence that he’s innocence.
“Alford shmalford,” she said, referencing Peterson’s insistence on an Alford plea rather than a guilty plea.
After the hearing, Peterson reiterated his innocence, saying he took the deal only because he was worried that a new trial would be marked by the same misconduct that led to his first conviction being overturned.
“I’m innocent, totally innocent,” he said.