Dateline correspondent Dennis Murphy has been covering the murder of Kathleen Peterson since she was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her Durham, North Carolina mansion in 2001. Her husband, Michael Peterson, was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2003. Kathleen’s daughter, Caitlin Atwater, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her stepfather and in 2007, they agreed to a $25 million settlement. It was assumed that Peterson would not be able to pay the settlement; Atwater’s intent was to stop Peterson from ever being able to profit from the crime. (Atwater was a 24-year-old student at Cornell University at the time.)
In February 2017, after entering an Alford plea to a charge of voluntary manslaughter, Michael Peterson was freed from jail after serving more than 7 years (89 months) in prison. How does his release affect the settlement with his stepdaughter? According to WRAL the settlement says if Peterson “is ever exonerated, she (Atwater) would be allowed under the agreement to reinstate the suit.” Michael Peterson will be interviewed again by Dennis Murphy on Dateline (April 7) which airs Fridays at 9pm on NBC.