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Jurors Visit Home Where Durham Writer's Wife Died

Jurors examined a bloodstained stairwell where the body was found.

Jurors in the murder trial of a Durham novelist accused of killing his wife examined a bloodstained stairwell where the body was found as the defense wrapped up its first week of testimony Thursday. Defense lawyers for writer Michael Peterson contend that Kathleen Peterson slipped and fell, injuring herself fatally, on Dec. 9, 2001. Prosecutors contend that Peterson beat his wife with a fireplace tool at the bottom of the back staircase in the sprawling two-story home. Defense lawyer David Rudolf said the jury visit that he requested was important because it provided a firsthand view of the staircase, which has been boarded since soon after the death. "We thought it was important for them to get a sense of the space," said Rudolf, noting that the stairwell was 42 inches wide and the fireplace tool was 391/2 inches long. "The real benefit for them is when you look at that space and compare it to the pictures. It's a lot smaller," Rudolf said. Jurors also looked at the pool, the kitchen and a sitting area where Peterson waited after police were called. As they went into the stairwell one by one, jurors walked up a few steps and looked back. Some waved their arms while looking backward and all the 16 jurors took notes, said Demorris Lee, a pool reporter from The News amp; Observer whom the judge allowed to watch the proceedings. Jurors also paid close attention to the blood stains and spatters in the stairwell during the visit, which lasted less than an hour. Some jurors knelt to examine the bloodstains on the stairs and wall, Lee said. The stairwell's north wall had a picture of a black cat. Beneath the picture was an area of rust-colored stains on the salmon-painted wall, Lee wrote later. Some of the stains were circled, Lee wrote, the work of Duane Deaver, a blood-spatter expert for the State Bureau of Investigation who concluded that Kathleen Peterson was beaten to death on these steps. On a wall outside the stairwell, a spotlight illuminated three tiny spots of blood that Deaver testified were left there by a weapon used to kill Kathleen Peterson, Lee wrote. The defense says they came from Mike Peterson's hand when he was pulled away after embracing his dead wife. Another wall had a black metal chairlift that was installed by the home's previous owners. Peterson was in the house but not visible to the jurors. Court adjourned for the week after the viewing. The defense plans to call forensic scientist Henry Lee, known for his roles on the O.J. Simpson and William Kennedy Smith defense teams, to the stand Monday. Before the jury left the courthouse for the visit to Peterson's home, the daughter of Kathleen Peterson said she hoped the trip would help jurors understand what happened. Caitlin Atwater, who lived in the house until shortly after her mother died and has supported the prosecution, said she and other family members had used the same staircase "thousands of times ... no one has ever fallen down it." Atwater said she hasn't viewed the blood stains, either in person or in crime scene photographs, and hasn't been to the house since January 2002. "Hopefully, they'll see that this is where my mother died," she said. "This is a crime scene. This is her death scene. This is her blood that hasn't been cleaned off the wall in two years." "The way I remember the house ... is with her spirit and her life in it and I feel that's not how they've kept the house," she said.

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