SundanceTV Brings Back “THE STAIRCASE”
In response to viewers’ increasing appetite for compelling crime documentaries, and in light of recent stories that have referenced the series as a touchstone in the art form, SundanceTV will make their Peabody Award winning series THE STAIRCASE available on demand via the Sundance TV app and website beginning Fri., Jan. 15. The first two episodes will be available with no log-in required.
THE STAIRCASE, directed by Academy Award Winner Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, details the complicated real life case of Michael Peterson, a novelist from Durham, N.C. on trial for killing his wife, Kathleen. The series is often touted by critics as among their favorite documentaries of all time—Time.com recently included the series among the 15 best true crime stories ever told and The New York Times described the series as “…thick with shocks and subtle revelations…a masterpiece.” David Plotz of Slate noted, “It was Serial before there was Serial! This eight-part series about a man on trial for the murder of his wife is devilishly confounding. You will believe one thing, then the reverse, then something else—and then what you originally believed.”
In 2001, Michael Peterson made a 911 call that would launch one of the nation’s most stunning and complex trials. Heartbroken by his wife’s fall to her death in their North Carolina mansion, Peterson was stunned when the District Attorney arrested him for murder. According to those close to them, the couple’s marriage had been loving, but as investigators found her body lying in a sea of blood, they suspected foul play. What emerged was a series of outrageous revelations they never could have expected. From illicit sexual activities, to political intrigue and possible links to another death, the Peterson case became front-page news and the basis for the haunting documentary series THE STAIRCASE.
The gripping, eight part docuseries, which originally aired in 2005, will be supplemented by Lestrade’s 2013 follow up, THE STAIRCASE: LAST CHANCE, two hour-long installments documenting Peterson’s release from jail pending retrial.
Episode 1 (“Crime or Accident?”)
Michael Peterson recalls the night of Dec. 9, 2001, which began with dinner, wine and a rented movie, and ended with his wife Kathleen’s death. After Peterson is charged with murder, his attorney David Rudolf begins working with the investigators and experts who will be critical to Peterson’s defense.
Episode 2 (“Secrets and Lies”)
Shocking revelations about Michael Peterson’s private life pose new issues for his defense team, as it becomes clear that the prosecution will use these details to torpedo characterizations of the Peterson marriage as idyllic. Peterson discusses the culture and politics of Durham, subjects he frequently addressed when he was writing a local newspaper column.
Episode 3 (“A Striking Coincidence”)
In the spring of 2002, the case takes another surprising turn when prosecutors turn their attention to the 1985 death of Elizabeth Ratliff, a military widow who was found dead at the bottom of the stairs of her home in Germany. The last person to have seen Ratliff alive is believed to have been her close friend and neighbor, Michael Peterson. Peterson subsequently adopted Ratliff’s two daughters, who must now deal with new accusations against the man who raised them.
Episode 4 (“A Prosecution Trickery”)
The defense team is forced to contend with the prosecution’s latest bombshell concerning the death of Elizabeth Ratliff. In Apr. 2003, there is a pre-trail hearing regarding evidence, a proceeding that ends with yet another twist. On Jul. 1, 2003, the trial begins with opening statements.
Episode 5 (“A Weak Case”)
District Attorney Jim Hardin lays out the prosecution’s case and calls witnesses to testify about three points of evidence: the amount of blood at the scene, Kathleen’s head lacerations and the potential murder weapon, a fireplace tool called a blowpoke. Rudolf puts on a tough cross-examination.
Episode 6 (“The Prosecution’s Revenge”)
The court rules on key evidentiary issues, and the prosecution calls several witnesses who give emotionally charged testimony. Meanwhile, the trial is receiving extensive and often sensational coverage in the media.
Episode 7 (“The Blowpoke Returns”)
The defense begins presenting its case, which relies heavily upon such experts as a biomechanical engineer and a prominent forensic scientist. But the outcome may finally come down to a stunning find by Michael Peterson’s oldest son.
Episode 8 (“The Verdict”)
The long trial reaches its conclusion and Michael Peterson learns his fate—at least, for the immediate future.
THE STAIRCASE II: THE LAST CHANCE (Part 1)
Shocking discoveries shed new light on one of the most complex murder trials of recent times. This episode checks in on Peterson in jail and finds out how his family has been dealing with the fallout from the verdict. There may just be one chance left to make their case, or Peterson will end his days behind bars.
THE STAIRCASE II: THE LAST CHANCE (Part 2)
An astounding revelation opens the door for Michael Peterson’s final appeal. The prosecution’s blood spatter expert has been outed as a fraud, and the defense team seeks a retrial. Whether Peterson is truly innocent or a killer, will justice prevail?
You can watch THE STAIRCASE on the SundanceTV website or app, available for iOS and Android.