Novelist Michael Peterson will get a new trial and it could pave the way for other convicted murderers.
After serving eight years behind bars for the death of his wife, Peterson, 68, was released Thursday following a ruling that former State Bureau of Investigation agent Duane Deaver, a key prosecution witness, misled jurors about the strength of bloodstain evidence.
“It is a very troublesome situation there is no question about it,” former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan said.
Judge Orlando Hudson ruled that Deaver misled jurors at Peterson's trial when he testified that his analysis of blood spatter showed beyond any doubt that Kathleen Peterson died after being struck by her husband three times with a blunt object.
Shanahan says Hudson’s ruling Wednesday questions the credibility of a state agent and, inevitably, opens the floodgates for others to follow suit. Shanahan says he would not be surprised if more prisoners and their lawyers will want to revisit their cases if Deaver testified.
“We hate to think someone who is a convicted murderer or child rapist or someone who did a heinous crime that belongs behind bars might go free as a results of unreliable testimony of one or more agents,” Shanahan said.
The SBI fired Deaver in January after an independent audit found problems in 34 cases where he either misreported test results, withheld results that could have helped the defendant or overstated the strength of the evidence to help prosecutors.
In one of those cases, a man spent more than 17 years in prison before being released after a state innocence panel exonerated him.
Shanahan says retrying stale cases will not be easy because depending on how old the case is, the evidence may be eroded and some of the witnesses might not be able to be located or may have even died, but a prosecutor will still have to prove guilt without reasonable doubt.
“If we don't do this, and if we don't clean up this mess, then there will be no chance at restoring the faith of the people in our judicial system,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan said it could be a lengthy process but if other cases are not re-examined
Phillip Isley, attorney for Deaver, declined to comment but released a statement saying, “I respectfully disagree with the judge’s beliefs about our client. Duane Deaver did not commit perjury or mislead the court in any way."
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