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Who Is Duane Deaver From 'The Staircase' And What Did He Do In Michael Peterson's Trials?

Duane Deaver was an expert witness in the Michael Peterson trial and a key figure in Peterson's appeal, which ultimately led to his release from prison in 2017.

The Michael Peterson Case, Explained

Duane Deaver played a pivotal role in the Michael Peterson trial, a landmark case that is the basis for the new dramatic series “The Staircase." 

Peterson was charged with murder in 2001 for the death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson, whose bloody and battered body was found at the bottom of a staircase in their North Carolina home. Peterson had always insisted that he simply found Kathleen's body and that she must have fallen down the stairs.

During the novelist’s infamous trial — documented in the docuseries “The Staircase” — Deaver testified as an expert witness for the prosecution that bloodstain analysis from the scene indicated Kathleen Peterson's injuries were sustained during a fatal beating — not from an accidental fall. 

Duane Deaver at the Michael Peterson Trial

Deaver, who is played by actor Myke Holmes in the new adaptation, was a North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) agent at the time of the trial and, by 2003, he was an 18-year veteran of the bureau, the News & Observer reported. The outlet reported in 2010 that Deaver was “the SBI’s go-to man on bloodstain pattern analysis.” 

However, Deaver had a degree in zoology and completed just two courses in bloodstain analysis but he was never a member of any professional bloodstain analysis organizations, the News & Observer noted.

His testimony was crucial in convincing the jury that Peterson killed his wife, and Peterson was convicted of Kathleen’s murder in 2003.

But after a lengthy appeal process — which primarily focused on Deaver’s testimony — a retrial was ordered in 2011. 

Peterson’s defense had filed motions arguing that Deaver provided unreliable testimony. Deaver had been fired from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation in 2011 after allegedly providing false testimony at a number of trials.

Deaver's work began to be scrutinized in 2010 when Greg Taylor was exonerated after 17 years in prison. Taylor was convicted in 1993 of murdering a woman near downtown Raleigh after Deaver testified that Taylor’s vehicle had “chemical indications for the presence of blood,” the News & Observer reported. It turned out that Deaver apparently hadn't explained that more sophisticated tests done on the vehicle actually showed that there was no blood.

An independent audit of the blood testing unit of the SBI looked at 229 criminal cases and five were classified as deeply troubling. Deaver had performed work in all five of those cases.

In 2014, Deaver tried to get his job back — along with back pay — ABC 11 reported. The State Human Resources Commission eventually ruled that he was wrongly fired in 2011, and instead should have been demoted, with a cut in pay. They ordered the SBI to re-hire him, give him back pay that was owed, then fire him again, reasoning that he would have been rightly fired in 2013 when the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a judge's ruling that Deaver had misled jurors in the Peterson case, WRAL reported in 2014. The commission said Deaver was owed 30 months of back pay.

Peterson was released in 2017 after he entered an Alford plea — a guilty plea whereby a defendant does not admit to the criminal act — to manslaughter charges in Kathleen's death to avoid a second trial.

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