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Crime News

Could An Owl Have Killed Michael Peterson’s Wife Kathleen?

Could an owl have killed Kathleen Peterson? Owl feathers were found on her body.

By Gina Tron

It’s a real hoot-done it.

There’s a wild theory about “The Staircase” on Netflix that’s getting a whole lot of traction: an owl killed Kathleen Peterson.

Peterson was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her Durham, North Carolina home on December 9, 2001. The Netflix docu-series chronicles her husband Michael Peterson’s 2003 trial for her murder.

He was convicted of first-degree murder and spent nearly a decade behind bars before being granted a new trail in 2011. But, in February 2017, just months before the scheduled retrial, Peterson submitted an Alford plea to the reduced charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced to time already served.

Peterson’s lawyers maintained that Peterson didn’t kill his wife and that her death must have been accidental. She had been drinking and she had valium in her system. But, that didn’t explain the deep lacerations on her head.

Prosecutors and a medical examiner claimed that she died of blunt force trauma but as “The Staircase” explained, she didn’t suffer any skull fracture or brain injuries, or even brain bruising, which is atypical of blunt force trauma deaths. Defense Attorney David Rudolf looked into 250 cases involving beating deaths in North Carolina over a period of ten years and there wasn’t a single case involving multiple blows to the head where there wasn’t either a skull fracture or massive injuries to the brain or both.

“And, you didn’t have that in that case.”

What if the lacerations weren’t from being beaten in the head but were the result of talon scratches, from say, an owl?

“The owl theory is a ridiculous theory when you first here it,” Thomas Dew, a demonstrative evidence specialist told Netflix in a bonus feature. “You really have to get into the evidence in order to understand that it was actually possible for an owl to do this.”

Durham attorney T. Lawrence Pollard was a neighbor of the Petersons, and he had nothing to do with the original case. But, he brought the wild theory to police years after Peterson’s trial after he read the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation evidence list of the crime scene and discovered that a microscopic owl feather was listed. A wooden sliver from a tree limb was also found in a clump of hair that Kathleen had in her own hand, according to Metro Magazine in Raleigh.

A re-examination of the clump of hair in September 2008 resulted in the finding of two microscopic owl feathers, according to an episode of the podcast Criminal. Pollard also believes that the lacerations on the back of Kathleen’s head, which in some areas resemble a trident shape, look much like the tracks of owl talons. Rudolf said that when you look at the wounds on Kathleen’s head, it appears plausible that it could have been done by the predatory bird.

In 2009, Pollard filed a motion requesting that Peterson’s conviction be overturned and that he get a new trial.

“Nobody thought of an owl at that time,” Pollard told Netflix. “Everybody just rushed to judgment and thought that this was a murder.”

Barred owls are known to attack people, by dive-bombing them, with no warning, Dr. Alan Van Norman, an ornithology (which is the study of birds) expert told Netflix.

[Photos: Getty Images]

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