Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's documentary, "Death on the Staircase," didn't happen by accident.
Creators of the gripping, behind-the-scenes look at the Michael Peterson murder trial seem strangely reticent to reveal the extent of their involvement in the design -- but none of it happened by accident.
For one thing, Mr. Lestrade and producer, Denis Poncet, had obtained complete access and had begun filming within weeks of the December 9, 2001 death of Michael Peterson's wife, Kathleen Peterson.
How had the producers heard of an odd, fatal staircase accident in Durham, North Carolina? Did they blindly contact the grieving family by phone and ask about filming the tragedy? Or did the producers already know Mr. Peterson?
And how is it possible Jean-Xavier decided to make a film exposing the inadequacies of the American justice system and the horrors of small town bigotry against a bi-sexual defendant, practically before Michael Peterson's spouse had even been buried?
According to Peterson, his wife had accidently fallen down the stairs. He said her death was just an unfortunate mishap, no different than any other accident.
Why did Maha's producers bank on there ever being a trial at all? Didn't they believe Michael?
Lestrade claims: "Before the case we had never heard about Michael Peterson. What is true: Denis Poncet spent 18 months at the University of Chapel Hill in 1969. But he never met Michael Peterson at the time."
That's nonsense. A year only has 12 months -- and there is no such place as the "University of Chapel Hill."
What is true? A review of people and places puts Poncet in close proximity to Peterson at various times throughout the last 30 years and strongly suggests Mr. Poncet knew who the novelist was. Perhaps not, but it would start to explain the documentary's heavy slant in favor of the only person who was at home with Kathleen Peterson when she suffered blunt force trauma and bled to death in her back hallway.
Jean-Xavier says it took him 12 months to edit the film and says he "really did his best" to make it "balanced," and "to present a very fair work." His claims of fairness and balance are a preposterous fraud.
In an article for North Carolina's News and Observer, Craig Jarvis writes that Lestrade's Staircase has "no pretense of offering an even-handed look at the case" and states, "The investigation and trial that unfold in the documentary is not the one I covered for nearly two years as a news reporter." Jarvis also points out that one only needs to read the segment titles of the eight-part project to know Maha's movie is blatantly biased and transparently skewed against the prosecution team. ("Chapter 4 - Prosecution Trickery," "Chapter 5 - A Weak Case," "Chapter 6 - The Prosecution's Revenge")
While Jean-Xavier's drama contains hours of pathetic family interviews, critical facts of the case are completely missing. Furthermore, Lestrade has skewed reality to inject his own political agenda.
The outrageously generalized comments Lestrade has repeatedly made about the citizens of Durham are indefensible.
("...Do not forget that we are in North Carolina and that you do not deal with very open-minded people.") Such hateful statements are as ludicrous as they are repugnant.
It's telling that Jean-Xavier would have his audience believe the city police department, county DA's office, and various state agencies conspired together to falsely convict one man. That's the same paranoid fiction Peterson tried to sell. Whether Jean-Xavier believes it to be true, or simply finds the notion useful to his movie's narrative, his accusations are more than just absurd and insulting, they are dangerous.
(". . . the values of an intolerant, close-minded America.")
Clearly Jean-Xavier de Lestrade has his own prejudices, and perhaps with defendant Peterson he saw a chance to duplicate the success of his last film which documented the racial bigotry in a Jacksonville, Florida homicide case that truly was an appalling miscarriage of justice. Referencing that project, Murder on a Sunday Morning, Jean-Xavier said:
"Death on the Staircase is also a story of exclusion, of segregation, but of another kind. It is obvious that if the wealthy, famous, white writer Michael Peterson hadn't been bisexual, the case would never have come to court."
It is obvious, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade only shot his film from that one, distorted angle.
This website is not intended as a forum to argue Mike Peterson's guilt or innocence. He was found guilty of First Degree Murder on October 10, 2003 and immediately sentenced to life in prison. He does not have the possibility of parole, and few people realistically believe Peterson -- who put up an extremely aggressive, million dollar defense -- will ever be granted a new trial.
These pages are designed to combat the distortions, false impressions and most importantly, the stunning omissions of Lestrade's documentary.
Maha's crew followed the Peterson family for two years, finishing with over 650 hours of footage. Obviously, which 6 hours were kept -- and which 644 hours were cut -- wasn't decided by accident.
Considering the film's lack of spoken narration, it can't be pure coincidence that viewers almost uniformly come away from it feeling confused about what appears to be insufficient evidence of murder, and angry with what appears to be an outrageous miscarriage of justice.
Things aren't always what they appear to be. This site aims to document the truth behind, The Staircase.