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Michael Peterson's Son Says These "Staircase" Scenes Are "Complete Nonsense"

Todd Peterson has opened up about where he thinks the true crime miniseries goes wrong.

Across eight episodes, the HBO Max limited series The Staircase dramatizes the true events surrounding the 2001 death of Kathleen PetersonColin Firth stars as writer Michael Peterson, who is accused and eventually convicted of his wife's murder, though he has always maintained that her death was an accident. The public got an inside look at the initial trial through the 2004 French docuseries also called The Staircase, which is considered a seminal piece of true crime filmmaking and helped establish the genre. In that docuseries, viewers also meet the Petersons' children and learn about their blended family. One major presence is Todd Peterson, one of Michael's children from his first marriage, who is played by Patrick Schwarzenegger in the HBO show. The drama series has stirred up a lot of controversy with the artistic license it takes, and the real Todd has opened up on social media recently about what it allegedly gets wrong about his family. Read on to find out which scenes he says are "complete [expletive] nonsense" and about the complaints other individuals depicted have about the show.

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Michael Peterson was convicted in 2003.

Michael and Kathleen Peterson

Though Michael has maintained that he found his second wife Kathleen unconscious at the bottom of a staircase in Durham, North Carolina home, he was convicted of her murder in 2003. As the docuseries and the HBO series both show, the defense claimed that her injuries could have been caused by an accidental fall, while the prosecution claimed that she had been assaulted before she died.

Among the aspects of Michael's life that surfaced during the trial were that he is bisexual and had extramarital affairs with men, and that a friend of his and his first wife Patricia's when they were living in Germany, a woman named Elizabeth Ratliff, had been found dead at the bottom of her staircase in 1985. After Ratliff's death, Patricia and Michael began raising her two daughters, Margaret and Martha. And while Ratliff's cause of death was originally listed as a brain hemorrhage, it was changed to homicide after her body was exhumed and reexamined. Michael was never charged for her apparent murder, but the suspicious manner of her death was a major part of his trial.

He was able to change his fate after corruption was uncovered.

Michael Peterson with his legal team in The Staircase

Michael received a life sentence but was released and placed on house arrest in 2011 after having been granted the opportunity for a new trial. This occurred because it had been discovered that one of the prosecution's key witnesses, a purported blood spatter expert, had given false testimony and greatly exaggerated his credentials.

In 2017, Michael entered an Alford plea for a voluntary manslaughter charge, which means that the defendant maintains their innocence but acknowledges that there is enough evidence to convict. He had already served enough time to cover the new sentence and has been a free man since then.

The filmmakers behind The Staircase documentary have spoken out against the HBO show.

David Rudolf and Michael Peterson in The Staircase

In late May, Vanity Fair published an interview with Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, director of the acclaimed documentary series, and other filmmakers, in which he said that he felt "betrayed" by the drama series' director, Antonio Campos, to whom he'd given access to his archives of footage related to the Peterson case. The documentarians are characters in the adaptation, and the series shows them debating whether to edit their film to make Michael look more sympathetic. "I understand if you dramatize. But when you attack the credibility of my work, that's really not acceptable to me," de Lestrade told Vanity Fair. "It's alleged that we cut the documentary series in a way to help Peterson's appeal, which is not true."

The HBO series also makes it seem as though Sophie Brunet, the editor played by Juliette Binoche and who eventually became Michael's girlfriend, was corresponding with him as she edited the first eight episodes of the documentary. The real Brunet says that she only entered into a personal relationship with Peterson after she left The Staircase for another editing job, and that she came back to edit the three 2018 episodes after they had broken up.

Todd's main issue is how the series allegedly misrepresents his father's marriage.

Todd Peterson on Instagram
A Cup of Tea & Slice of TV/YouTube

Todd recently posted a video to his Instagram that's been preserved on YouTube, in which he speaks at length about the relationship history of his father, his mother Patricia, and his stepmother Kathleen. Though Todd claims that Michael cheated on his mother with Kathleen, he also says that Michael and Kathleen were extremely happy together once they made things official.

"[Michael and Patricia] pretty much fought every day of their marriage from what I could tell," Todd says in the video. "And I've said it before, my dad and Kathleen never fought once. I never once ever saw my dad and Kathleen ever have a [expletive] argument, ever. They had the greatest relationship of anyone I'd ever seen. I have no [expletive] idea how that's possible, but it's true. They had the world's greatest relationship, my dad and Kathleen. They never [expletive] fought. All of those scenes that you've seen on HBO are complete [expletive] nonsense."

The adaptation features many instances in which Firth's Michael and Toni Collette's Kathleen argue, sometimes screaming at one another, about a number of topics, including finances, the family, and his affairs.

Todd goes on to say in the video that he has no reason to lie about this, because he does not have a good relationship with his father now. "As mentioned, my dad and I are not on good terms," he says. "I would be the first to talk [expletive]. They had a fantastic relationship."

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Michael also spoke out against the show.

The Staircase
HBO Max/YouTube

On June 9, Variety published emails sent to the publication by Michael Peterson regarding the HBO show. He claims that de Lestrade sold out his family by "[selling] OUR story to Campos for money," though de Lestrade says that he received less than $10,000 as a fee. Michael goes on to say that he doesn't care about his reputation but his children's, and, though he doesn't go into detail, that "there are egregious fabrications and distortions of the truth in the HBO series, well beyond what may be considered 'artistic' license."

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Sage Young
Sage Young is the Deputy Entertainment Editor at Best Life, expanding and honing our coverage in this vertical by managing a team of industry-obsessed writers. Read more
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