The very engrossing documentary now shown on Netflix details the 15 year struggle of Michael Peterson to prove his innocence when accused (and convicted) of his wife’s murder, serving 8 and a half years in prison. Lacking such in-depth coverage, many people knowing the bare facts of the case would remain in doubt about him having committed the murder or not, or would outright consider him guilty.

To start with, it’s awful that it took so long for the case to be resolved, and the only option to bring the nightmare to an end was entering the Alford plea (pleading guilty for practical reasons, to avoid another jury trial, which had failed spectacularly the first time, despite proving he should’ve at least been granted reasonable doubt).

The 15 year journey through the system was littered with a plethora of errors and lies (proven bad faith on the state’s part )- omitted laboratory tests, fabricated evidence (claiming the murder weapon to have been a missing blow poke the police had actually found and moved), mishandling evidence, tests not being carried out, “expert” testimony from someone proven to have no expertise in analysing blood stains etc. Claim upon claim, debunked by the defence overtime.

Whatever anyone may think might’ve happened in that house, the prosecution’s clear lack of honesty should not have been ignored (and shouldn’t be by anyone watching this).

There are many lessons to learn from this documentary.

  1. The state is considered to handle matters correctly by default, even if there have been many wrongful convictions in the past.

A life sentence (or worse, a death sentence) is not to be taken lightly – and yet, cases of people who have been wrongfully convicted and even executed for crimes they did not commit keep popping up.This series of legal proceedings proves why – even shoddy or fabricated evidence, as well as false expertise, is admitted when coming from prosecutors or law enforcement. An expert produced by them is deemed more of an expert that someone produced by the defence, with no consideration of actual qualifications in the field. The jury is not qualified to tell the difference.

2. A jury trial can turn into a kangaroo court in a puritanical society.

The prosecution threw unrelated matters into a murder case, such as the defendant’s sexual orientation, to shed doubt on the peaceful relationship he’d had with his wife (though everyone around them could attest to that – family, friends, coworkers, the community in general). This was done knowing it would impact jurors’ biases. Emails to a male escort were thrown in, for shock value, though no correlation could be established between the wife’s death and this planned sexual escapade (which seems to be common among bisexual married men, as the escort testified).

The jury also trusted the expertise of a perjurer – now known to have contributed to the wrongful sentencing of others overtime, disregarding other analyses on the matter, by more qualified people. They returned a unanimous guilty verdict, lacking any evidence to link the defendant to his wife’s death.

3. Lawyers are unreasonably given a bad name.

One of the most impacting aspects of this documentary was the long, arduous fight carried out by the legal team, in the latter years working pro bono to clear this man’s name against the odds. His lawyer’s utter shock and disappointment after the first verdict were very moving; he’d lost his faith not only in the legal system but in humanity in general. And it’s not difficult to see why, as those with decision-making powers seemed blind to their enormous responsibility.

4. The media is a pack of vultures swaying masses of people with falsehoods.

The way the media supported the state’s narrative, as opposed to being objective, was appalling, and if these events had not been filmed in real time, the public would never have become aware of this. The superficiality, the guesswork, the inflammatory statements thrown before millions of people who had no idea what was going on.

5. The jurors (and others) had very poor character assessment abilities.

As such serious, sensitive matters are discussed in court, intuition should also play a role in determining the agendas behind everyone present.  The dishonesty and perseverance of the state to win at all cost were apparent from the beginning. The prosecution featured a very determined lady (I forgot her name) who by sheer attitude and demeanour emitted the most repulsive, cold and predatory vibe; one could easily tell there was something wrong with her. She was also shown literally prancing around with joy when one of the shoddy experiments carried out (later proven an improvisation with no scientific basis) seemed to show their narrative was correct.

The sister of the deceased, the main influence on these proceedings, was oddly similar – there seemed to be something wrong with her stern, cold and yet simultaneously rabid demeanour. She seemed out of control, claiming knowledge she couldn’t possibly have had about the event. It was her who came up with the hypothesis of the blow poke in the first place, which they ran with, while knowing it was false as they’d already found it (they’d even been photographed holding it). The blatant lies were otherworldly.

6. One never really knows their social circle – or even family, in some cases.

The speed with which some who had never seen problems in the defendant’s marriage turned against him, eliminating even reasonable doubt, was very surprising.

His wife’s daughter for instance was brought up by him for many years; it’s impossible, while living in the same house as someone, not to notice issues such as violence or a bad temper. Or any type of problems. Before her mother’s death, the entire family was praising their relationship and describing it in the warmest terms.

Once the accusation was launched and the media circus began, they suddenly classed someone they’d known for many years as a monster – as his other sons and daughters protested his innocence. There was never any testimony from them, all throughout, about anything they had observed directly, making it easy to conclude they’d been influenced by others to the point of disregarding all they knew about him from personal experience.

The perseverance they showed in trying to destroy his life – all throughout, with no evidence – as the rest of their family suffered through this process, was astonishing. It became even more apparent after he was released from prison and granted a new trial due to all the errors committed in the first one. He had by then lost his home and money, was in poorer health (looking about 20 years older) and last but not least, they were aware a new trial had not been granted for no reason. They were aware that the prosecution, responsible for convincing them of his guilt in the first place, had at least made a ton of mistakes. That should’ve been alarming to anybody, regardless of their staunch initial conviction. Even that was not enough for them to at least doubt their version of events and stay out of the proceedings, to the very last day.

 

 

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