Michael Peterson's real-life attorney calls HBO series' big twist 'completely unfair'

Theoden Janes, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Entertainment News

As seen on TV: At a meeting with Peterson’s children the day before Kathleen’s autopsy photos will be shown to the jury, Rudolf (Michael Stuhlbarg) explains that “we really need everyone there, arm in arm, united front.” Martha (Odessa Young) shakes her head, and says, “I can’t go.” Rudolf says no one’s going to force her, to which she replies: “Of course you’re gonna force me.” Rudolf then says, “Optics aren’t great.” Martha gets agitated, and adamantly refuses again. The scene then cuts to the next day — and Martha is sitting in the courtroom, looking uncomfortable.

(Also worth noting: In Episode 3, Rudolf says to Martha — after she and her sister Margaret somewhat reluctantly agree to a TV interview — “Think about dyeing your hair. Bleached blonde isn’t great on camera.”)

The real Rudolf’s reaction: False. “I don’t ever remember a scene where Martha lost her s--- and didn’t want to go to court. I mean, there may have been times when she said, ‘I’d rather not be there.’ But to lose her s--- like that? No. And if she had, I certainly wouldn’t have pressed her to go. But optics are important in a courtroom. That’s the reality. The jury’s looking at everything.”

‘It’s a stupid question’

As seen on TV: During his cross-examination of medical examiner Deborah Radisch (Susan Pourfar), who performed the autopsy on Kathleen, Rudolf asks her: “Is it possible, in order to reach the conclusion that Kathleen Peterson’s death was a homicide, that you were coached by the D.A.?” The district attorney, Jim Hardin (Cullen Moss), objects — and Rudolf quickly withdraws the question.

The real Rudolf’s reaction: False. “Did I ever say to Deborah Radisch, ‘Were you coached by the D.A.?’ No. It’s a stupid question. But these are the things that they put in TV movies,” he says, adding that he wishes the filmmakers had avoided melodrama because “there was enough they could have put in that would have been real without that stuff.”


Friction within the family

As seen on TV: Inside the Peterson house, tensions rise between Michael’s natural sons and his adopted daughters, after Martha calls Clayton (Dane DeHaan), Todd (Patrick Schwarzenegger) and Michael “crazy.” “Why can’t you guys just be normal??” Martha cries, sounding exasperated. Todd: “Margie, can you keep your little sister in check?” Margaret (Sophie Turner): “No, she’s right. I’m sick of defending you guys, too.” Todd: “Oh, really? You’re gonna say that in front of our mother. Our mother who took you in off the street.” Margaret: “Well, all you do is hit her up for money. You guys make everything worse. You rack up debt. You embarrass us.” Michael and Rudolf enter the house just in time to see Clayton and Martha shoving each other and screaming.

The real Rudolf’s reaction: False — from his perspective, at least. “No!” he says, when asked if he ever saw that kind of tension between Peterson’s children. “No. Never! I never saw it. Now, I’m not saying it didn’t happen when I wasn’t there. But, for example, they have me walking into that scene? That never happened.”

To testify, or not to testify?


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