Statement Analysis®

Michael Peterson

Here is a case I have read a lot about in the newspaper because it occurred close to where I live. It is a good example of not denying that you committed the crime.

On December 9, 2001, Durham, NC novelist Michael Peterson returned home to find his wife, Kathleen, lying dead at the base of a staircase. Peterson called 911 and told the operator his wife had been injured in a fall. As the police conducted their investigation, they began to doubt Peterson's story. The medical examiner said Kathleen had died from a blow to the back of her head. Several weeks later, Peterson was indicted for killing his wife.

Peterson wasn't talking about the death of his wife. However, on March 18, 2002, Peterson gave an interview with television station WRAL. When he was asked if he was worried about the approaching trial, he replied:

"No. Absolutely not. I'm not worried about what's going to happen because I know what happened and what did not happen, and I know it'll all work out."

Deceptive people will try to convince you they are telling the truth. Often times they will do this by repeating their claim. Three times Peterson tells us he is not worried.

His statement "I know what happened and what did not happen" is suppose to be a denial. He wants us to assume that he knows it was an accident and that he knows he did not kill his wife. However, this is not a denial. He did not state "I didn't do it" or "I didn't kill her." This is typical language of a guilty person. Remember, people do not like to lie so they make statements which only sound like a denial.

Peterson's statement is truthful. He does know what happened and what did not happened and everything will work out. However, he does not tell us what he knows. In some ways, this is an incriminating statement. If he came home and found his wife at the bottom of the stairs, he would not be able to make this claim. He would not have been there to witness what transpired. He can speculate she fell down the stairs, but he tells us "I know what happened."

Later in the interview he states:

"I don't know if it was murder. I don't know. When I called 911, I thought she had fallen down the stairs and as far as I know, that's what happened."

Again we have him repeating something. More importantly we have him changing his story. Earlier he stated, "I know what happened." Now he tells us he does not know if it was murder. I thought he knew happened and what did not happened.

The word "thought" tells us he does not know for sure what happened. Even if he pushed her down the stairs, this is still a truthful statement. If you push someone hard enough, they will fall down.

His statement "as far as I know that's what happened" is not as strong as his previous statement "I know what happened and what did not happened." He is not as committed to his story by saying "as far as I know."

Throughout this interview, I never heard Peterson state, "I didn't kill her" or "I didn't do it." Remember, when people say, "I am innocent" they are denying the conclusion that they are guilty. However, when people say, "I didn't do it" they are denying the action. Peterson never denies the act of killing his wife. Peterson is currently on trial for murdering his wife Kathleen Peterson.

Interview with Michael Peterson's ex-wife

I receive an email with a link to an interview that was conducted with Michael Peterson's first wife Patricia Peterson. She spoke to Eyewitness News reporter Sonya Pfeiffer on April 12, 2002.

Question: There are people that believe Michael killed Kathleen- including the DA, the Grand Jury that indicted him. Do you think they're completely off base?

Answer: My assumption and my hope is they are going to find the truth and that he is innocent. Again I believe in the institutions of our country."

Patricia Paterson did not answer the question with a "yes" or "no." She uses words such as "assumption" and "hope." This is not the same as saying "I know he is innocent" or "I know he did not kill her."

Question: Have you ever known Michael to lie?

Answer: No, not directly. I have no knowledge of that.

She answers the question with a "no." However, she then qualifies her answer by saying "not directly." This means there is the possibility that Michael Peterson lied indirectly. It could also mean that Patricia Paterson indirectly knew him to lie.

Question: So you're saying he's never lied to you.

Answer: No, not directly."

If she wanted to state that he has never lied to her, she should have responded with a "yes" or "that is correct."

She again repeats "No, not directly" which he means he may have lied indirectly.

Question: Did he ever hit you?

Answer: I would say no.

She now changes her language. The two previous questions she answered with a "no." Now she states "I would say no." This is not as strong as "no." There is a possibility that he did hit her.

Question: Did he ever threaten you?

Answer: Michael Peterson did not exhibit towards me any negative characteristics in the manner you describe.

The shortest answer is the best answer. We would expect her to answer this question with a "no" as she has done with previous questions. We do not know what she means by "negative characteristics." She has not directly told us that he never threatened her.

Question: Was he ever violent in any way?

Answer: No.

Here she answers the question. If she says he was not violent, we can believe he was not violent.

Question: Has he ever suggested to you he could be violent?

Answer: In my knowledge of him as an individual, in 40 years he has never exhibited any violence that would terminate the life of an individual or harm another individual.

She qualifies her answer with "violence that would terminate the life of an individual or harm another individual." This could mean he expressed other types of violence. However, in the previous question she denied that he was ever violent in any way.

Question: If Michael Peterson confessed to this crime, would you be able to support him?

Answer: It would be totally contrary to my experience with him as a human being for 40 years. I've known him in his youth, his middle age, as a soldier serving his country, as a loving father as a man who has loved me and other individuals.

She does not answer the question "would you be able to support him?"

She states that she knew him in several ways "as a a loving father" etc. She does not mention that she knew him as a spouse.

Question: If you had the opportunity to say one thing to those who believe Michael killed Kathleen, what would you want to say to them?

Answer: Based on his character as a human being, as an individual, as a father, a husband, and a community member, he is not guilty.

It is interesting to look at the order in which she talks about his character:

1. as a human being
2. as an individual
3. as a father
4. as a husband
5. as a community leader

His character as a husband is low on the list.


Michael Peterson was found guilty of killing his wife Kathleen Peterson. On October 10, 2003, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Return to the Famous Cases page