The Durham Superior Court judge who presided over a six-day hearing in December has issued his written order for a new trial in the Michael Peterson case. Peterson is now free on bond after eight years in prison. He was convicted of murder in a 2003 trial that garnered national attention.
At the center of the first trial and the hearing in December was the testimony of a North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation agent. According to the court order, the agent’s testimony was “deliberately and intentionally” misleading, and, as a result, Peterson did not receive a fair trial. The judge cites the agent’s description under oath of his education, his experience in forensics and the scientific basis for his assertion that Peterson was responsible for his wife’s death.
Expert witnesses and other SBI agents offered proof to the court in December that the agent’s testimony was flawed. The court described the agent’s statements as “materially misleading and deliberately false,” including his testimony that he had worked on 500 cases involving bloodstains; in fact, there were only 54 such cases.
The court also found that the agent had knowingly favored the prosecution with his testimony and his analysis. This wasn’t the first time that had happened, either. In a pattern “repeated over the course of 20 years” the agent had exhibited a bias against criminal defendants. (This bias was one reason for the overhaul of the SBI’s crime lab last year.)
Not only was the agent’s bloodstain analysis biased, but it was “not scientifically valid.” The agent had also failed to follow accepted practices, and, according to the order, if the judge had known any of this he wouldn’t have allowed the agent to testify.
The district attorney appealed the decision after the judge’s oral ruling in December. The agent was fired from the SBI last year; his testimony in several cases is in question.
Source: News & Observer, “Judge order says Michael Peterson’s rights violated by SBI agent,” J. Andrew Curliss, May 10, 2012