In the latest episode of The Staircase, everyone asks one question: Did Michael Peterson’s bisexuality play an unfair role in his conviction for murdering his wife?
It’s hard to talk about Michael Peterson’s murder case without talking about his bisexuality.
The question of whether Michael killed his wife Kathleen Peterson is the subject of new… binge TV series The stairsstarring Colin Firth and Toni Collette, and from the first episode we become aware that Michael likes a little something extra that Kathleen can’t provide.
Michael was found guilty of the murder of Kathleen in 2003, retrial eight years later, pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to time-trial and release.
But the ask what really happened to Kathleen Peterson? on the stairs that night is one that may never be answered with certainty.
A beautiful life
Equally fascinating to audiences hungry for true crime is Michael Peterson’s backstory. A Vietnam veteran, novelist and politician, Michael lived an enviable life of prosperity and advantage. But as with many lives that look perfect on the outside, there were secrets and lies that simmered beneath the surface.
The question posed at trial: Was Michael Peterson’s bisexuality reason enough to kill his wife?
and the question The stairs The question now is: Was the focus on Michael Peterson’s sexuality alone enough to see him convicted?
A gay soldier
Michael Peterson, a proud military man, said in a documentary series about his trial that he always tried to hide his bisexuality when on active duty because of peer pressure, saying he just wanted to appear “normal”.
As he prepared his defense, when asked about the affairs with men he admitted to having had during his marriage, Michael said that he never told Kathleen about them explicitly, but that he felt she knew that part of his life. and accepted.
“It just got understood again that — no, I think for some strange reason it would have been more upsetting for her if it had been other women,” he said. “I think that might have threatened her more, I don’t know, but in all the conversations we would have, all the jokes, every time we go to a military base, ‘They’re just like you. They are all gay. Look, they’re all touching and petting each other all the time.’
“I think there was enough awareness of her side of me as a person and who I was, what made this relationship so good, that yes, she understood these aspects of me and wasn’t worried about that because I loved her. That yes, I did have sex with other people, but that had absolutely nothing to do with not loving Kathleen or less.”
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Bisexual in the US Bible Belt
Michael and Kathleen Peterson lived in Durham, North Carolina, part of the socially conservative Bible Belt.
Even today, Protestant Christianity plays a strong role in the society and politics of the area.
Twenty years ago, being openly bisexual would have been social suicide for a man who led a largely public life—first in the military, then as a novelist and newspaper columnist and, when Kathleen died, as a candidate for public office.
Michael said he found out growing up that he was bisexual, but he knew he had to keep it a secret.
“It was part of who… I was trying not to reveal,” he said in previous documentary series, also titled The stairs†
“Well, you get to a point… and let’s face it. It was my baseball team’s short stop. I was really confused.
“What is this all about? I had never had male thoughts before then and then suddenly he was there. In that fantasy. And I was very confused because of that, but it didn’t go away from my fantasies. And I realized then that I felt a great attraction for women, but also for boys.”
Was Michael Peterson tried for being bisexual?
The scandal of Michael Peterson’s bisexuality that emerged at a trial in a place like North Carolina may have been a crime enough in itself to make an early 2000s conservative jury suspicious and willing to convict.
When asked in 2017 if he thought his bisexuality played a part in his conviction, Peterson said: “Of course it had to have an impact. Why does that translate into murder? It didn’t make sense at all, but it sure went, ‘There is the!’ in the head of the jury.”
The judge at the first trial agreed, saying that if the trial had taken place now, he would not have allowed the issue of Michael’s sexuality to go to trial.
“Over the years you can see how with time and more examination of the evidence that came in, maybe… [the trial] was not without prejudice,” he said. “There are things I would have changed. Any homosexual evidence, however it was used, would unnecessarily harm the defense.”
Would Michael Peterson have been found guilty if the prosecution hadn’t insisted that he killed his wife Kathleen because she found out about his affairs with men?
Even Colin Firth, the actor who climbed into Michael Peterson’s character, says he doesn’t know if Michael did it.
We may never know for sure, but The stairs gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the story and asks us to draw our own conclusions.
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Carolyn Tate is a journalist, runner, dark chocolate lover and chatterbox. Find her on Instagram at @tatewriter
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