In the latest episode of The Staircase, everyone is wondering: did Michael Peterson’s bisexuality play an unfair role in his conviction for the murder of his wife?
It’s hard to talk about Michael Peterson’s murder trial without mentioning his bisexuality.
Whether Michael killed his wife Kathleen Peterson is the subject of a new Binge TV series The staircasewith Colin Firth and Toni Collette, and from the first episode, we’re told that Michael likes a little something on the side that Kathleen can’t provide.
Michael was convicted of murdering Kathleen in 2003, then secured a new trial eight years later, in which he pleaded guilty to intentional homicide and was sentenced to time served and released.
But the question of what really happened to Kathleen Peterson on the stairs that night is a question that can never be answered with certainty.
A perfect life
Michael Peterson’s backstory is equally compelling to an audience hungry for true crime. Vietnam veteran, novelist and politician, Michael has lived an enviable life of wealth and advantages. But, as with many lives that seem perfect on the outside, there were secrets and lies simmering beneath the surface.
The question asked at the trial: was Michael Peterson’s bisexuality a sufficient reason to kill his wife?
And the question The staircase Now asking is: Was the focus on Michael Peterson’s sexuality enough to see him condemned?
A gay soldier
Proud serviceman Michael Peterson said in a documentary series about his trial that he always tried to keep his bisexuality hidden while on active duty due to peer pressure, saying he just wanted to appear ‘normal’ .
During the preparation of his defense, when asked about the affairs with men he admitted to having had during his marriage, Michael stated that he had never explicitly told Kathleen about it, but that he felt she knew and accepted that part of his life.
“It was just heard again that – no, I think it would have been for some weird reason more upsetting to her if it had been other women,” he said. “I think it might have threatened her more, I don’t know, but in all the conversations we had, all the jokes, every time we went to a military base: ‘They’re like you. They are all gay. Look, they’re all touching, patting each other all the time.
“I think she was aware enough of me as a person and who I was, which made this relationship so good, that yes, she understood those aspects of me and didn’t care because I That yes, I had sex with other people, but that had absolutely nothing to do with disliking Kathleen or liking her less.
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Bisexual in the United States Bible Belt
Michael and Kathleen Peterson lived in Durham, North Carolina, part of the socially conservative Bible Belt.
Even now, Protestant Christianity plays an important role in the region’s society and politics.
Twenty years ago, being openly bisexual would have been social suicide for a man leading a largely public life – first in the military, then as a novelist and columnist and, upon Kathleen’s death, as a candidate for public office.
Michael said he realized when he was growing up that he was bisexual, but he knew he had to hide it.
“It was part of who…I was trying not to reveal,” he said in a previous documentary series also titled The staircase.
“Well, you come to a certain point…and let’s be honest here. He was the shortstop for my baseball team. I was really confused.
“What does all this mean? Before that time I had never had any thoughts of men and then suddenly he was there. In this fantasy. And I was very troubled by that, but that didn’t take me away from my fantasies, and I realized at that moment that I felt a great attraction for women, but also for men.
Has Michael Peterson been tried for bisexuality?
The Michael Peterson bisexuality scandal revealed during a trial in a place like North Carolina may well have been a crime in itself enough to make a conservative jury in the early 2000s suspicious and ready to convict.
When asked in 2017 if he thought his bisexuality played a role in his conviction, Peterson said: “Of course it must have had an impact. Why does this translate into murder? It didn’t make any sense at all, but it was definitely, ‘This is it!’ in the mind of the juror.
The original trial judge agreed, saying that if the trial were to take place now, he would not have allowed the issue of Michael’s sexuality to be admitted at trial.
“Over the years you can see how over time and further examination of the evidence that has come in, maybe [the trial] was not without prejudice,” he said. “There are things I would have changed. All homosexual evidence, however used, would have been unduly prejudicial to the defense.”
Would Michael Peterson have been found guilty if the prosecution had not insisted that he kill his wife Kathleen because she had discovered his affairs with men?
Even Colin Firth, the actor who climbed inside the character of Michael Peterson, says he doesn’t know if Michael did.
We may never know either, but The staircase allows us to go behind the scenes of the story and asks us to draw our own conclusions.
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Carolyn Tate is a journalist, runner, dark chocolate lover and talker. Find her on Instagram at @tatewriter