Escort testifies about correspondence with accused novelist
By John Springer
DURHAM, North Carolina (Court TV) -- A former male escort who charged men $150 per hour to do "anything under the sun" testified Monday that he had a brief e-mail relationship with novelist Michael Peterson but never met the man now on trial for allegedly killing his wife.
There has been no evidence presented that Kathleen Peterson ever found out about her husband's e-mail relationship with witness Brent Wolgamott, a 28-year-old North Carolina State University chemistry student from Raleigh. Between August 30 and September 5, 2001, Wolgamott exchanged about 20 e-mails with Michael Peterson. The exchange was supposed to lead to a sexual encounter, according to the testimony.
Michael Peterson, a novelist and former newspaper columnist, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife on December 9, 2001. Prosecutors say he beat her to death and tried to make it look like an accident; defense lawyers say she had been drinking and fell down a flight of stairs in their home.
The trial is now in its seventh week. If convicted of first-degree murder, Peterson, 59, could face life in prison without parole.
Prosecutors contend that Peterson's interest in having homosexual relations could have been a motive for killing Kathleen Peterson. Although her death initially appeared to be caused by an accidental fall, she could have been beaten to death confronting her husband with his interest in men and gay pornography.
If nothing else, the evidence rebuts a defense characterization of the Petersons' marriage as a "storybook" relationship, prosecutors successfully argued last week when asking the judge to allow the testimony.
Wolgamott, who used the name "Brad" on a Web site that described his services, told jurors on Monday that he stood Peterson up for a scheduled rendezvous. Peterson never made contact again with Wolgamott, who testified only after prosecutors gave him immunity from prosecution. Wolgamott testified using his real name despite his lawyer's insistence that he needed to have his name protected for fear of embarrassment.
Wolgamott, an active-duty soldier stationed at Fort Bragg at the time, wore a dark blue suit, blue shirt and checkered tie to the witness stand. His blond hair was crew-cut. His anticipated appearance packed Judge Orlando Hudson's courtroom.
The witness laughed nervously through his testimony.
"What types of services did you perform?" prosecutor Freda Black asked, after establishing that Wolgamott preferred the term "male escort" to prostitute.
"Oh, wow. That's pretty broad. Basically it's companionship for other men of legal age," Wolgamott said.
Asked if that included sex, Wolgamott said yes. "Sometimes it does. Just about anything under the sun. Safely, I might add."
Wolgamott said his e-mail relationship with Peterson began in late August 2001. Peterson found Wolgamott through a posting on a Web site where other men reviewed their experiences with the escort.
In the e-mails, which jurors later read, Peterson made it clear that he was married and appreciated his wife, Wolgamott said.
"He said something of the effect that he had a great marriage and he had a lot of warmth and affection for his wife," he testified.
Wolgamott stood Peterson up for a planned rendezvous -- either at Peterson's home, or one he owned, he could not remember -- on September 5, 2001. If Peterson had been serious about "hooking up," Wolgamott opined, he would have called or sent a series of e-mails as other men had done when a planned meeting did not come off.
On cross-examination of Wolgamott, defense lawyer David Rudolf underscored the fact that the male escort and his client never met.
"So we're all clear, you have never had any kind of sexual relationship with Mr. Peterson, have you?" Rudolf asked.
"That's correct. I have never even met him," Wolgamott replied.
Rudolf apparently tried to get jurors to conclude that prosecutors wanted to prejudice his client by presenting the salacious testimony. He noted that Wolgamott had filed an affidavit beforehand attesting that he had never met Michael Peterson and knew nothing about his marriage.
"Sir, do you know anything about the death of Kathleen Peterson?" Rudolf asked.
"I know diddly. Diddly," Wolgamott said.
"I take it that means nothing?" the judge asked.
"I know nothing. Zip," Wolgamott insisted.
After Wolgamott left the stand, prosecutors returned to the subject of pornographic images recovered from an area of Peterson's computer where deleted files were stored. Jurors were shown hundreds of images, thumbnails of photographs that were stored on the computer when someone visited Internet sites.
Many of the images were of men. Some were merely shirtless. Others were engaged in various sexual acts.
In other testimony, a North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation forensic chemist testified about his analysis of blood found on a pair of khaki shorts Michael Peterson was wearing the night his wife died. Agent John Bendure testified that he was asked to analyze eight drops of blood found on the inside of the rear right leg of Peterson's shorts, which were covered with his wife's blood.
That the blood droplets were wider on the inside of the shorts than the outside suggests that the drops were applied to the fabric from the inside, Bendure testified. No explanation was offered by the prosecution or the defense as to how blood spatter could have found its way inside Peterson's shorts, or what it might mean.
Jurors have so far heard evidence of an alleged financial motive and testimony that Kathleen Peterson suffered seven lacerations to the back of her head. The pathologist who performed the autopsy and a state police blood spatter expert have yet to testify.
The trial resumes Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. EDT.