The case behind the true crime docuseries “The Staircase” is getting a dramatic limited series treatment with Oscar winner Colin Firth starring as Michael Peterson.
Peterson was convicted in 2003 for the murder of his wife Kathleen Peterson, 48, who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their North Carolina home in 2001 with lacerations on her head. Her death spawned a lot of theories, including one that an owl killed her. Alarmingly, she was one of two women he is connected to who were found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. The first woman, 43-year-old Elizabeth Ann McKee Ratliff, was a friend of Peterson and his first wife, Patricia, when they lived in Germany. Ratliff was found dead in her home after having dinner with the Petersons the night before. Michael was the last person known to see her alive, but the initial autopsy determined she died of an accidental fall and related brain hemorrhage.
While Peterson, a novelist, spent nearly a decade behind bars for his wife Kathleen's death, he was granted a new trial in 2011 after a judge determined that a key prosecution witness, Duane Deaver, provided unreliable testimony during the original trial. Deaver testified that bloodstain analysis from the scene indicated that Kathleen's injuries were sustained during a fatal beating, not from an accidental fall. Deaver was fired from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation in 2011 after allegedly providing false testimony at a number of trials.
Then in 2017, just months before the scheduled retrial, Peterson submitted an Alford plea to the reduced charge of manslaughter. The plea deal acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict him at trial, while still allowing him to maintain his innocence. He was sentenced to time already served and it was decided he would never face another day in court, or jail, for his wife's death.
The entire case was examined in Netflix’s 2018 docuseries “The Staircase.”
Now, HBO Max is making a dramatized account of the case with an eight-episode series. While Harrison Ford was originally slated to star as Peterson, Colin Firth has now been cast in the role, Entertainment Weekly reports. Firth is known for his roles in “The King’s Speech.” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” Maggie Cohn, who produced “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” will serve as co-showrunner for the series, which will also be called "The Staircase," Variety reports.
"This has been a project I have been working on in one way or another since 2008," the project’s executive director Antonio Campos wrote in a statement, obtained by Entertainment Weekly. "It's been a long and winding road, but well worth the wait to be able to find partners like HBO Max, Annapurna, co-showrunner Maggie Cohn, and the incredible Colin Firth to dramatize such a complex true-life story."
Get all your true crime news from Oxygen. Coverage of the latest true crime stories and famous cases explained, as well as the best TV shows, movies and podcasts in the genre. And don't miss our own podcast, Martinis & Murder!