When Michael Peterson’s wife was found at the bottom of the stairs in their North Carolina mansion in a pool of blood in 2001, he quickly became a suspect. What followed was a trial that included some seemingly outrageous theories and constant denial from him of having had anything to do with her fall. Now that Netflix is opening up the case to the world with The Staircase, it will have fans wondering, is Michael Peterson still alive? His trial and the death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson, somehow continue to draw fascination and interest from many. Since the sometimes grainy photos and dated footage makes it seem like the crime happened long ago rather than in the early 2000s, it's almost natural to assume that after the trial, Peterson met his death in prison or while awaiting sentencing. (Romper reached out to Michael Peterson's representatives and Netflix for additional statements.)
To make the story even more sensational, Peterson was actually released from prison in February 2011 — and yes, he’s alive and well to this day. Well, to be fair, since he will forever be a convicted felon, he won’t be living the life he once had, but he’s still alive and living in North Carolina. The case began with Peterson calling 9-1-1 to report finding his wife at the bottom of the stairs, but the ensuing trial found him guilty of murdering his wife and he spent almost eight years in prison before being released from prison and granted a new trial in 2011.
The trial itself never came though, and instead he entered an Alford plea in his 2017 hearing, during which the judge lessened his charges to manslaughter and he was released from prison due to the time he’d already served under his previous charges. Since then, though there’s still surely a mixture of theories and claims from the public, Peterson tried to go back to living a normal life as best he could. His wife’s sister and daughter continue to maintain that despite his claims of innocence and the murder charge being brought down to manslaughter, they feel strongly that he was indeed responsible for his wife’s death in 2001.
In 2002, his stepdaughter, Caitlin Atwater, brought a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Peterson in an effort to force him to admit to the value of her mother’s life before her death and in order to help Atwater begin to move on. The case itself settled at $25 million, but it’s unclear if Peterson has paid anything yet. During the initial trial in 2003, court documents revealed that Peterson’s former sister-in-law, Lori Campbell, said she claimed to witness Peterson previously roughly grabbing her sister, which was obviously another reason why she continues to assert that he had something to do with her death.
In Netflix’s The Staircase, which will continue to follow Peterson’s case as the original TV documentary of the same name did years ago, viewers will get to see all facets of the crime and subsequent trial. There will be Peterson’s claims of innocence, along with his struggle to agree to an Alford plea, which does not admit guilt, per se, but instead admits that there is substantial evidence to be proven guilty.
Viewers will also get to see how Peterson and his family struggled throughout the trial and the aftermath, including his former sister-in-law and stepdaughter, who are hardly on his side in any of these matters. With filming of the docuseries complete, Peterson is no longer in prison or awaiting any other trials to come, but you can't help but wonder what his life will be like now, Yes, he stayed alive throughout it all and now, at 74, he’s starting his life over, but at a pretty hefty cost.