'The Staircase' Lawyer Says The Owl Theory 'Pretty Persuasive and Credible'
As audiences and experts alike continue to discuss The Staircase — the hit Netflix documentary series about accused wife murderer Michael Peterson — new video of Peterson’s legal defense team in action has gone online.
At the same time, observers are pointing out a previously unheralded connection between The Staircase and Netflix’s other signature true crime series, Making a Murderer.
The Staircase addresses the case of Michael Peterson, a military veteran turned novelist whose wife, Kathleen Peterson, died in 2001 after an apparent assault to her head and neck prompted her to fall down a set of steps in the couple’s home.
Peterson claimed it was an accident, but police charged him with Kathleen’s murder. As the saga played out, Peterson’s personal peculiarities turned the case into a media sensation.
Among them were Peterson’s extramarital affairs with men, his exaggerated Vietnam War record, and that, in 1985, he was in the home of a female friend the night she, too, turned up dead at the bottom of a staircase.
Most remarkable, though, was the “owl theory” that emerged as to how Kathleen died — specifically, that she was attacked by a barred owl and fell down the steps in the process — and that it proved compelling enough to factor into Peterson ultimately being freed from prison.
In terms of the new footage, it depicts a roundtable discussion among Peterson’s attorneys that didn’t make the documentary’s final cut. As with so much else connected to the case, the video raises more questions than it answers, but that just adds to the fascinating aspect of the mystery.
So, too, does a factor being pointed out online recently that ties The Staircase to Making a Murderer, the smash Netflix series that documents the controversial arrest, trial, and conviction of Wisconsin resident Steven Avery in the 2005 rape and murder of photographer Teresa Halbach.
The connection between the two cases and, subsequently, the popular documentary series is defense attorney David S. Rudolf.
Rudolf stands out prominently as Michael Peterson’s lawyer in The Staircase. Meanwhile, in Making a Murderer, attorney Jerry Buting stands out while defending Steven Avery.
Their similar vigor is perhaps not a coincidence, as Rudolf had actually been Buting’s law professor several decades earlier. As Rudolf put it:
“I started a clinical program back at the University of North Carolina in ’78, and Jerry was in, I can’t remember, like the second or third clinic that I ran. And enough of the people who went through that clinic ended up being defense lawyers, which is a nice thing to see for me.”
Rudolf adds that he’s spoken to Buting, although not “at any length,” and that the connection “hasn’t escaped our notices.”
In addition, in June 2018, David S. Rudolf called the process of defending Michael Peterson multiple times, particularly with cameras constantly present, “emotionally unbearable.” He is also angered by the notion that the “owl theory” has become a sort of cultural punchline.
Writing on his personal website, Rudolf lays out a series of points that, he states, do not “prove” the owl theory, but to make it seem “pretty persuasive and credible.” Among them are the following:
• Barred owls were living in the woods by the Peterson house
• Barred owls are aggressive and can be dangerous, as explained [by the Audobon Society here].
• Barred owls have attacked people on numerous occasions
• There were drops of blood on the outside walkway leading to the front door of the house, as shown in police photos
• There was a large smear of blood on the outside of the front door frame as shown in police photos
• At least two of the wounds on Kathleen Peterson’s scalp are in the shape of the talons of a barred owl, as shown on autopsy photos
• The tiny wounds on Kathleen’s face are consistent with the tip of an owl’s beak
• A feather was found on Kathleen Peterson’s body
• A twig was found in dried blood on Kathleen Peterson’s body
• There were numerous strands of Kathleen Peterson’s head hair, which the roots indicated had been pulled out (not cut), found in dried blood on her hands
• Kathleen’s head injuries are not consistent with her having been beaten by a blunt object or on a stair, as she had no brain injury or swelling, no subdural hematoma, and no skull fracture.”
For more on Michael Peterson, watch Investigation Discovery’s An American Murder Mystery: The Staircase on ID GO now!