This Morning viewers were quickly thickened as Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield sat down with Michael Peterson. The 78-year-old joined the pair in the studio on the ITV daytime show on Wednesday (May 25) as a drama series about his own very real situation is released.
The novelist was convicted in 2003 of murdering his second wife, Kathleen Peterson, in December 2001. After eight years, Michael was granted a new trial after the judge ruled a critical prosecution witness gave misleading testimony. Then, in 2017, he submitted an Alford plea – a guilty plea in criminal courts in the United States – to the reduced charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to time already served and released.
Now, nearly two decades after his first conviction, Michael’s real life story is being dramatized in HBO Max series The Staircase, starring Colin Firth as Michael.
READMORE: This Morning’s Phillip Schofield had special request rejected by Buckingham Palace
Speaking to Holly and Phillip, Michael, who has always professed his innocence, said: “Pathologists looked at all the evidence and said ‘no, she was not beaten to death’ and I could never figure it out [what happened]… my understanding of it was, and it’s hard to believe this, but it was over 20 years ago, but the theory was that yes she fell but she tried to get up and slipped in all the blood… I don’t know what it was or what happened to her.” He added: “I don’t know, I honestly, I wish I could tell you.”
On one of the theories surrounding his sexuality and that an argument stemming from this caused the incident, Michael was asked if his wife knew about his sexuality. Michael replied: “No, we did not discuss it. But did she know? I’m sure she did… in a marriage there are things that don’t need to be said sometimes. And this was one of those.”
Holly, 41, later asked the This Morning guest: “If you are innocent, why then accept manslaughter?” to which Michael responded, “There’s a good reason. When this came about and they wanted to retry it, I was 73-years-old and my attorney said he’d done as much as he could and couldn’t represent me in the next case, I have grandchildren and children that had probably gone through more than what I had gone through.
“I went to prison but my children had to live through all of this and it was terrible for them, so at the age of 73 did I want to go back to trial to prove that I didn’t do anything so that I could be I was already free. So I would’ve been risking emotional damage to my children and grandchildren…
“So I took what is considered an Alford plea, which is that I didn’t do anything, I am not guilty, but I will plead guilty to a smaller charge so that you will set me free. So to me that was the better thing.”
But during the interview, This Morning viewers couldn’t help but pick up on Phillip’s quizzing. The 60-year-old TV star started by asking: “So she is found at the bottom of the stairs, 38 injuries to her body, deep lacerations on her skull, face, back, hands, arms and wrists. So extensive injuries. What happened? Did you push her down the stairs?” he then asked as Michael quickly replied: “No, I did not.”
Phillip continued: “Did you hit her with a poker?” as Michael said again: “No, I did not.” In response, Phillip said: “So explain those accusations,” as Michael replied: “I can’t, that’s one of the strangest things. When I first saw the lacerations, I was horrified, I really was.” Phillip then said to Michael: “I think you also said that she may have fallen down the stairs a number of times. Not many people fall down the stairs, get up, walk up the stairs and fall down again.”
In response to Phillip’s questioning, @kimberley48 tweeted: “Phil leave its not your job to find out if he did it or not! #thismorning.” @TraylorHolmes joked: “Phil cracking on likes he’s in Law & Order #ThisMorning.”
@EllieJo15437192 asked: “Does Phil suddenly think he’s Columbo? #ThisMorning.” @johnlawton1974 added: “#ThisMorning Phil the detective…”
Finishing their interview on the ITV show Phil spoke about a ‘twist of fate’ in the studio. “In a remarkable twist of fate, our team member who was looking after you yesterday grabbed you just as you were about to fall down the staircase and saved you,” Phillip said.
“Did I?” the guest then asked rather confused. “Yes,” Philip replied. “He saved you from falling down the staircase.” As Michael continued to appear confused, Phillip joked: “Can’t remember that one either?” with Holly bursting into laughter and Peterson saying: “No I don’t.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.