The Staircase

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

The Staircase chronicles a sensational North Carolina murder case from the crime to the verdict. When Kathleen Peterson was found dead in her Durham, NC mansion in December 2001, her husband, novelist Michael Peterson, claimed she had fallen down a narrow staircase. The authorities disagreed, and Peterson was charged with first degree murder.

Thereafter, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade (Murder on a Sunday Morning) and his crew were given almost unrestricted access to the defendant (who was out on bail) and his legal team, as well as to the district attorney and the prosecution crew, albeit to a lesser extent.

The film features countless meetings to map out defence strategy, dozens of interviews, scenes of pre-trial home life, excerpts from Court TV coverage, and so on. The film follows the prosecution investigators to Texas, where we see a body exhumed; there’s even a trip to Germany to look into a previous death in which Peterson may or may not have been involved.

The Staircase is like the most suspenseful of page-turners, adding “layers of complexity until one is entirely hooked by its ambiguities and twists and turns.” By the end of this film series two key elements remain unexplained: What went on in the jury room during deliberations? Did Kathleen Peterson fall down the stairs, or was it cold-blooded murder? Only Peterson knows, and he ain’t talkin’.

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