Heartthrob of yesteryear Harrison Ford has been cast as Michael Peterson, a Durham man convicted of murdering his wife in a case that attracted national interest through the Netflix docuseries The Staircase.

Variety reports that Ford, seventy-seven, will take on the role of Peterson, seventy-six, in an upcoming television series for Annapurna Television. (Related: Han Solo is seventy-six?!) The production company is currently shopping the project to networks and streaming services. 

In 2001, Peterson, a novelist who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Durham in 1999, was accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson, and staging her death to look like an accident.

Peterson claimed he discovered Kathleen covered in blood at the bottom of a staircase in the couple’s Durham home. The prosecution argued he viciously beat her to death.

He was found guilty of her murder in 2003 and sentence to life in prison. However, questions surfaced about the state’s investigation, and he was given a new trial. Peterson was eventually freed in 2017 after submitting an Alford plea for voluntary manslaughter.

While lots of people think Peterson totally did it, others believe the culprit was, um, an owl.

The Netflix doc series—which portrayed Peterson in a very favorable light—popularized the theory that gashes found on the back of Kathleen’s head were caused by the talons of a large owl rather than from blunt force trauma, as argued by the prosecution. There was even an owl feather found in her blood, his defenders say.

Annapurna has not confirmed who will play the owl. 

Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at ltauss@indyweek.com. 

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2 replies on “Harrison Ford Cast as Michael Peterson in TV Show About the “Staircase” Murder”

  1. The series didn’t popularise the owl theory. It was hardly referenced at all in the series. It was something that viewers came up with, themselves, and the defendant later said in interviews not contained in the documentary that he would have considered using it in a new trial. Also, the feather was in the evidence list, so it wasn’t just his “defenders” who say that there was an owl feather at the scene of the crime.

    Personally, I think she was involved in an accident, whether caused by an owl or not, that led to her falling down the staircase and being severely injured and possibly dying, and Peterson finished her off by strangling her, because she was suffering. That would account for all of the evidence and also his phony demeanor during the documentary series.

  2. Here’s the theory… Kathleen drank some wine by her pool and took a Rx pill that interacts with wine. On her way inside her house she got attacked by an owl (which happens rarely, but explains the talon marks and the owl feathers). she panicked (as a reasonable person might), ran inside through the basement door, started running up the stairs, slipped (because she was intoxicated and panicking), fell backward, hit her head on the door jam and died from the fall. The prosecution still doesn’t have an explanation for the owl feathers, the lack of a blood cast off pattern or the lack of a murder weapon.

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