(Note: This post contains spoilers for the Netflix series “The Staircase,” so you might want to finish it before reading on.)
One of the key figures in the long-running case of Michael Peterson in “The Staircase” is Duane Deaver, a blood spatter analyst who worked for North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation in 2002 when the case went to trial.
Deaver’s expert testimony is a major part of what lead to Peterson’s conviction for the murder of his wife, Kathleen Peterson, in 2001. The blood spatter expert insists in “The Staircase” that the patterns seen in the staircase of the Peterson home were the result of Kathleen Peterson being beaten to death. Though Peterson maintained his innocence and the defense presented blood spatter experts of its own, the jury convicted Peterson of first-degree murder in 2003, and sentenced him to life in prison.
It wasn’t until eight years later, after Peterson had exhausted his appeals, that a chance arose to reopen his case. A series of newspaper articles challenged the findings of the SBI and Deaver in particular, which caused the North Carolina attorney general to launch an investigation.
Deaver was suspended after it came to light that he failed to report blood test results that would have been helpful to the defense in the case of Greg Taylor — a man whose conviction was thrown out after he spent 19 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. also ruled that Deaver perjured himself during Peterson’s trial, and awarded him a new trial as a result.
So what happened to Deaver? The agent had a 25-year career as a blood spatter analyst, but was fired from the SBI in 2011, as WRAL reported, after an audit discovered that he had falsified evidence in 34 different cases. (The SBI in whole was found to have misstated findings and falsely reported evidence in more than 200 cases between 1987 and 2003).
Deaver attempted to argue that he was wrongfully terminated, but a judge upheld the firing in August 2014. In November, though, the North Carolina Human Resources Commissioned ruled that Deaver should have been demoted and his pay lowered by 10 percent, which is what it did to other agents with similar disciplinary issues. It ordered that the SBI should pay Deaver 34 months of back pay, but that it was right to fire Deaver in 2013 after the perjury ruling in the Peterson case.
Taylor sued North Carolina after his wrongful imprisonment and won a settlement of $4.25 milion from the state, as McClatchy reported. Another former defendant brought a lawsuit against Deaver after he stood trial for murder in 2007. Kirk Turner was accused of killing his wife in a case that appears in “The Staircase” — a jury found that she attacked him, and Turner killed her in self-defense.
Turner sued Deaver and another SBI agent, Gerald Thomas, WRAL reported. The suit alleged that the two agents created their theory of what happened and then tried to force their scientific results to match the theory. A Superior Court judge threw out the suit, but it was reinstated by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2016. The SBI settled Turner’s case in April 2018 for $200,000, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. But as part of the settlement, Deaver and the SBI admitted no wrongdoing.
After he was fired from the SBI, Deaver left work in criminal justice. Today, according to his LinkedIn profile, Deaver serves as Director of Operations at ISS Facilities in Texas.