Fingerprints offer hint of prosecution theory in novelist's trial
By John Springer
DURHAM, North Carolina (Court TV) -- One of defendant Michael Peterson's sneakers made a bloody print on the back of the sweatpants his wife, Kathleen, was wearing when she died at the bottom of a staircase, an investigator testified Tuesday.
The discovery of the shoe print is odd given what jurors have already been told about the sneakers. They, and a pairs of gym socks, were found next to Kathleen Peterson's body and Michael Peterson's feet were bare when officers arrived at 1810 Cedar St. in response to his call to 911.
But exactly what significance prosecutors hope jurors will assign to the evidence is not yet clear. As they have throughout five weeks of testimony so far, prosecutors Jim Hardin Jr. and Freda Black merely put the evidence before the jury with an expectation that the picture tying it all together to be drawn at the end of their case.
On cross-examination of state police evidence analyst Joyce Petzka, defense attorney David Rudolf asked if her examination of the sweatpants told her anything more than that a portion of a heel of one of the sneakers touched the garment at some point.
"You can't tell exactly how that happened, right?" Rudolf asked.
"Right," Petzka said.
"Or when that happened?" he added.
"Correct," the witness agreed.
Although Hardin's opening statement was very general, the prosecution has been highlighting evidence that appears to be building toward the argument that Michael Peterson beat his wife to death, removed his sneakers and left a blood trail of bare footprints throughout his kitchen that was only visible when the chemical luminol was sprayed.
The prosecution's theory seems to contend that while in the kitchen, Peterson took out one or two wine glasses and poured wine down the sink, perhaps to create evidence underscoring that he and his wife had been drinking heavily, which might explain her fall.
Petzka testified that she found two of Michael Peterson's fingerprints on a wine glass but no identifiable prints on a second glass or two wine bottles. The defense, however, made much of the fact that there were partial fingerprints on the second wine glass.
"You don't know if those partial prints belong to Kathleen Peterson, right? ... Or someone else?" Rudolf inquired.
"Right ... Correct," the evidence specialist responded.
"Are you aware," Rudolf went on, "that Kathleen Peterson had a blood alcohol content of .07 [percent] that evening?"
"I read that in the newspaper," Petzka answered.
The defense lawyer then brought out bottles of Chambord and Cognac he got from the Peterson home. Petzka testified she had not seen them before and was not asked to examine them for latent fingerprints. "Obviously, she must have had her hand on some sort of glass that night," Rudolf said rhetorically.
In other testimony, state police forensic serologist Suzi Barker told jurors that she examined a paper weight, knife sharpener, floor mop and other items and did not detect any blood. She also tested towels, bed sheets and a condom that she described as "used" and found no evidence of semen. Prosecutors keep bringing up the condom but have yet to connect it to their theory that Michael Peterson murdered his wife for $1.4 million in insurance money and staged the scene to make her death look like an accidental fall.
On Tuesday morning, jurors were permitted to hold autopsy photos that showed lacerations on the back of Kathleen Peterson's head. A police evidence technician who witnessed the autopsy testified that she collected blood samples and photographs the coroner had taken, and well as a "wood-metal chip" found in Kathleen Peterson's scalp.
There has been no testimony about the autopsy or where the "wood-metal" chip may have come from. There has, however, been testimony that police seized at least one carpet staple and carpet fibers from the stairwell where Kathleen Peterson was found.