The Truth About Michael And Kathleen Peterson's Marriage

North Carolina novelist Michael Peterson served eight years in jail and another three years under house arrest in connection with the 2001 death of his second wife, Kathleen Peterson, who was found in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs. But the details of "the staircase murder" continue to baffle the nation, partly because no clear motive has ever been established. To complicate things further, the 2003 trial proceedings included a series of judicial errors that increased public interest in the case, along with its notoriety. 

After a judge ruled in 2011 that a key prosecution expert gave false testimony about bloodstain evidence, Michael was released from prison and placed under house arrest to await a new trial, ABC News reported. Instead of facing a new jury, Michael opted to enter an Alford plea in 2017, allowing him to continue to assert his innocence but reduce the charges against him to manslaughter, according to ABC 7 Chicago. He was sentenced to a maximum of 86 months — a little over seven years — and freed of time he had already served, per WRAL-TV

But interest in the case didn't end there. As the Charlotte Observer pointed out, at least 15 books, TV series, podcasts, and documentaries about the crime have been released over the years, most notably Netflix's "The Staircase." The public continues to question why Michael would want to kill the wife he apparently loved. Keep reading to learn details about Michael and Kathleen's marriage. 

Prosecutors argued the marriage broke down for this reason

Michael and Kathleen Peterson purchased their infamous Durham, N.C. mansion in August 1992, according to Dirt, where they lived until the 48-year-old was found dead on December 9, 2001. "We lived together for 14 years, and we were happy every one of those years," Michael said, per ABC News. Many friends and acquaintances agreed, Court TV News reported ahead of Michael's 2003 trial. "Their affection for each other was freely expressed," one supporter wrote in a letter to a judge.

But the prosecution team argued the marriage was struggling. During the investigation, detectives found "pornographic images of men" on Michael's computer, and email communications with a male escort, per ABC. Kathleen "would have been infuriated at learning that her husband, who she truly loved, was bisexual and having an extramarital relationship," then-Assistant District Attorney Freda Black said. "We believe ... that an argument ensued and a homicide occurred." In "The Staircase," Michael contended Kathleen knew about and accepted his bisexuality, per Bustle.

Meanwhile, prosecutors claimed Michael was indebted, which led him to go after a life insurance policy on Kathleen — a successful executive — and making her death seem like an accident, per Midland Daily News. "Michael Peterson, with that money, was going to be able to pull himself out of the financial fire that he had built for himself," said District Attorney Jim Hardin. 

With such contradictory evidence, the public never had a clear picture.