Dateline   |  April 03, 2014

'Reversal of Fortune', Part 8

After four days of deliberation, the jury has a verdict. What will they decide? 

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> after five months of trial, one of the longest anyone could remember in north carolina history, the peterson case was finally in the hands of the jury.

>> i had this moment of doubt where i was like what if it doesn't happen? what if he gets convicted? and i was like, no. there's no way.

>> the peterson kids were confident their dad would be going home with them. and michael's brother bill, a lawyer himself, was certain the prosecutors had not proven their case.

>> i thought that we had won that case hands down. i could not see anyone coming away from that trial with the conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt that my brother inflicted a beating that caused her death. i just did not see it.

>> but it seemed as though the jury would never come back. day one, no verdict. ditto day two and day three.

>> the jury's deliberating and you're waiting and waiting and waiting?

>> yeah. we were getting more and more optimistic, too. the longer the jury's out, we're thinking they're having trouble, they're having doubts.

>> finally, on day four, they got word. the jury had a verdict.

>> we were absolutely terrified. we knew the magnitude of this decision.

>> a hush, and then the clerk began to read.

>> we the 12 members of the jury unanimously find the defendant to be guilty of first-degree murder.

>> i felt violently ill. we all sort of reached over and grabbed each other as if we were trying to hold on to the family. it was definitely a terrible moment in my life.

>> as soon as we heard the first juror say guilty, i just was weeping like i was being taken over by grief and shock.

>> is there anything you want to say before the court imposes judgment?

>> i would like to say --

>> michael peterson turned to his kids.

>> he said, it's okay. it's okay. i think on his part he was just trying to calm himself down but also i think he felt like his role was to protect us.

>> he was acknowledging that we had a huge loss and that we had just lost everything and that it was going to be okay and he was going to find some way to make it okay again.

>> michael peterson turned to face the judge for the reading of the sentence.

>> the defendant is imprisoned in north carolina department of corrections for the remainder of his natural life without the benefit of parole.

>> for kathleen 's sister candace, the verdict was nothing to celebrate.

>> makes me cry when i heard it. there's no joy in this. it's just great sadness.

>> and peterson 's defense attorney , david rudolf , was racked with woulda, coulda, shoulda doubts.

>> i was devastated. it made me question myself.

>> as one of north carolina 's most battle hardened criminal defense attorneys, he knew how slim the chances were for a retrial once a case went on to the appellate court .

>> i can't imagine a worse fate than being in jail for something you didn't do, particularly when it's a loved one who's died. you don't even have a chance to grieve that person.

>> bill peterson , who had moved to durham to be with his brother through the trial, was in disbelief.

>> i went back to the house and i broke down. that's the worst day of our lives. our collective lives. absolutely the worst.

>> the brother stepped in to help in whatever way he could. there was the big house to sell. margaret and martha about to be without a roof over their heads would have to move to nevada with him. he visited michael in prison to get things started.

>> my brother had to sign some papers, power of attorney for me so we could wrap up his life. he came up and tried to reach his hands through the glass and crying. that was bad.

>> the peterson children resigned themselves to the harsh reality that prison was now their father's home. they visited him whenever they could.

>> i would just sob every time i left. you hold it together for dad because there's -- why would you cry in front of dad? that's not going to help him. when you leave, you're sobbing in your car.

>> years passed. the girls, now young women , watched their father age. still, michael peterson told his daughters he wasn't giving up.

>> we would have hope for every single appeal and every single time it would get beaten down.

>> by the end of 2007 , the north carolina supreme court rejected michael peterson 's request for a new trial. for peterson , it seemed to be the end of the line .

>> he wasn't going to come out. that was the hard part.

>> with little to lose, he spoke in prison with jones who had written a book on his case.

>> i know i'm not guilty. i know i didn't hurt kathleen . it's very difficult for me to accept the fact that i'm a prisoner, a convicted murderer. it's just -- well, it's just nonsense.

>> peterson said he loved his wife and his interest in men was not an issue in the marriage.

>> did kathleen know --

>> yes, of course, she knew. it was not a major factor in our lives. there's love and then there's sex. and that's what that was.

>> peterson told jones he and kathleen were enjoying a pleasant evening at home the night she died.

>> we had sex. she took a bath. we came downstairs. she started to cook. it was a -- a pasta thing.

>> it was a night like many others peterson said until he found kathleen at the bottom of the staircase.

>> people would say, how do you know she fell down the stairs? well, well, you know, you come in, been drinking a lot. she was drinking a good -- great deal. you find somebody at the bottom of the stairs. hmm, i guess they fell down the stairs.

>> he said he never would have hurt kathleen .

>> i didn't do anything. i guess basically still in my heart in my -- i like to believe kathleen fell down the stairs. but nobody buys that one.

>> his words were, but nobody buys that one.

>> wrongfully accused , wrong free convicted.

>> absolutely. wrongfully accused . wrongfully convicted . he's going to find a way out of this.

>> out in a coffin or out the front gate? the coffin seemed more likely. but then, life can take some