Million-Dollar Defense In N.C. Murder Trial

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On one side of the Durham, N.C., courtroom, two prosecutors perch at a wooden table sprinkled with folders and notepads. Behind them, a homicide detective watches, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. On the other side is the defense team, a bustling group of sometimes half a dozen people, whispering and huddling over laptop computers and a tangle of expensive audiovisual equipment.

Mike Peterson is spending at least a million dollars to keep from being sent to prison for the rest of his life, according to experienced lawyers and an informed estimate of the amount of work going into the case, the News & Observer says. Add the spending for the prosecutors, lead detective, judge and courtroom staff and the jurors’ stipend, and the cost of the case of the State of North Carolina v. Michael Iver Peterson could easily run as high as $1.5 million. Peterson is charged with killing his wife, Kathleen, in 2001. The trial is ongoing.

In most criminal cases, it’s the state that draws on far greater resources, but prosecutors rarely take on anyone as well-off as Peterson. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Peterson got advances of $1.05 million for two Vietnam War novels. Testimony in the trial has established that the Petersons had a net worth of well over $1 million.

Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin will spend something closer to $200,000, according to a trial-cost formula worked out by Duke University researchers and a review of expenses Hardin has already incurred for experts, courtroom exhibits and other matters.


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