Not long after Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the foot of the stairs in her home, her husband, author Michael Peterson, was indicted and convicted for the crime. The twists and turns of the trial has been documented in The Staircase on Netflix; Behind the Staircase, a 2019 memoir by Michael; and, most recently, the HBO miniseries also called The Staircase starring Colin Firth and Toni Colette. But the story doesn’t end in the courtroom or the prison. In 2011, a judge vacated Michael’s sentence upon learning one witness lied under oath. But what has become of him since then? Is Michael Peterson married now? Has he remarried since the death of his wife? In short, the answer is no.
Michael Peterson has been married twice, but hasn't married again since Kathleen's passing.
His first wife was Patricia Sue Peterson. They were married in 1966 and welcomed four children: their two biological sons, Clayton and Todd, as well as two adopted daughters, Martha and Margaret Ratliff. Patricia and Michael separated in 1987 — Clayon and Todd lived with Patricia and Martha and Margaret lived with Michael. Shortly thereafter, Michael met Kathleen. NBC News reported that they were brought together when Michael's daughters became friends with Kathleen's daughter, Caitlin Atwater, who lived down the street in Durham, North Carolina. The couple was living together by 1989 and married nearly a decade later in 1997. According to Atwater, Kathleen told her, "This is going to be our family now."
To many, the Petersons appeared to be a loving, committed couple.
Though their relationship was not without its disagreements, many people (including their children and neighbors) commented on how happy Michael and Kathleen seemed together, which is why what happened to Kathleen was all the more perplexing.
The Staircase is a limited series drama about the trial and the making of the documentary of the same name.
Throughout the investigation, Michael maintained his innocence and his affection for his late wife. The News & Observer reported that in Diane Fanning's book, Written in Blood, Peterson said, “Kathleen was my life. She is there, but I can't stop crying,” though he was not crying at the time. That made it difficult for some people to comprehend how a seemingly-happy marriage could end in murder. As lawyer Nick Galifianakis told People shortly after Michael's arrest, “Everything you hear about them loving each other and belonging together is true. Where in the world is the motive for this?”
The prosecution, however, noted possible motives for murder.
One was that the Petersons were having financial difficulties and Kathleen had a $1.5 million life insurance policy. Another potential motive was that Michael had affairs during their marriage that Kathleen may or may not have been privy to. In The Staircase, Michael said that Kathleen “took up his whole life” and fulfilled him emotionally — but that he did have sexual relationships with men outside of the marriage. The defense claimed that Kathleen knew and was accepting of his extra-marital affairs even though they did not openly discuss it.
Kathleen's daughter did not believe that could be the case based on what she knew of her mother, telling Dateline, "from the way that I was raised, that's not something that she would have been willing to accept." The prosecution felt that if Michael's affairs had been kept secret and Kathleen discovered them, it could have led to disagreements between them. According to ABC News, the assistant district attorney Freda Black said, "We believe that once she learned this information, that an argument ensued and a homicide occurred." But it's impossible to say whether Kathleen knew or not, because she's not here to confirm or deny it. Unfortunately for the family, that is one answer they will never get.
Michael has been out of prison since 2011.
After his sentence was vacated in 2011, Michael was placed under house arrest. By 2014, his restrictions had eased a bit. In 2017, he entered an Alford plea — a guilty plea in which the defendant maintains innocence, but recognizes there is sufficient evidence to convict — and he was released on time served. He has been a completely free man since then. It doesn't seem as though Michael has had any known romantic relationships since his conviction. If he does, those plans have not been made public. He is currently 78 years old.
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