Inside Michael Peterson's Life Today

While the multi-part true-crime docuseries "The Staircase" might not be the gold standard of the genre like it once was at the time of its 2004 debut, it's become the go-to source for the strange case of Michael Peterson, a North Carolina novelist who may or may not have murdered his second wife, Nortel executive Kathleen Peterson. As the first iteration of "The Staircase" detailed, Kathleen was found at the bottom of the titular staircase in the couple's Durham mansion in 2001, an incident which immediately raised the hackles of local law enforcement, who believed her death was the result of homicide on the part of her husband. Following an investigation and an ensuing murder trial, the latter of which became one of the longest of its kind in North Carolina history, Michael Peterson was eventually found guilty.

But part of the central pull of "The Staircase," aside from its various twists and turns (among which included the discovery that a close family friend of Peterson's had died under similar circumstances, also involving a staircase, nearly 17 years prior to Kathleen's death), was the central figure to the story. Despite Peterson's murder conviction in 2003, his story was far from over. 

So, where is Michael Peterson now? And what's his life like today? Scroll on to find out. 

Michael Peterson's conviction was eventually commuted in the form of an Alford plea

After spending eight years in prison, Michael Peterson was given an unexpected reprieve — one granted by way of state corruption. As the later episodes of "The Staircase" covered, Peterson was eventually granted a retrial hearing in 2011 after it was discovered that Duane Deaver — a blood-spatter analyst for North Carolina's State Bureau of Investigation who had testified under oath at Peterson's initial trial that evidence pointed towards his guilt – had covered up evidence in other trials that would've benefited the defense. Considering Deaver's testimony had largely swayed the jury at Peterson's trial in 2003, Peterson was granted a retrial hearing, and was released from prison in 2011.

After a years-long legal battle post-prison, which included almost three years under house arrest, Peterson finally attained freedom by entering an Alford plea for manslaughter and was officially given time served in exchange. While an Alford plea is not an admission of guilt, it signifies that the defendant agrees there is enough evidence in any given case to result in a guilty verdict. However, the same type of plea, contrary to the assertion Peterson has made in his books about his experience following his release, is not synonymous with his conviction being overturned

As The News & Observer noted, the former columnist's Alford plea was distinctly tied to the charge of manslaughter, which means that Peterson asserted his opinion of his innocence while simultaneously accepting charges (via Metro). 

Michael Peterson has stayed out of the spotlight — or has he?

Since his 2017 Alford plea, Michael Peterson has managed to keep to himself while continuing to remain in the spotlight. According to a June report by The Sun, Peterson continues to live in Durham and has self-published two books about his life during the murder trial and his life following his release from prison.

Peterson's current financial state, while up for speculation, is most likely a shadow of what it was in 2001. Peterson, who shared a fortune with his wife Kathleen Peterson up until the time of her death, referred to himself as "indigent" during the later episodes of "The Staircase," which were filmed following his 2011 release from prison. 

In addition to losing the civil suit his step-daughter, Caitlin Atwater, brought against him, Peterson also lost out on Kathleen's $1.4 million life insurance policy, per WRAL, and the home that they shared was put on the market in 2020, per The Sun.