Netflix did a series "The Staircase" in which they are viewing the evidence in the murder case where Michael Peterson was found guilty in the death of his wife, Katherine. This is a short analysis of the 911 call and of later statement made by Peterson, denying the murder.
Peterson credits Netflix in getting his conviction over turned. The editor of the series, Sophie Bruenet, had a 15 year affair with Michael Peterson. As to its heavy editing, he said, "I wouldn't say that my relationship with Sophie, or its end, influenced any decisions as to what was included or excluded in any way positively or negatively."
Did he kill his wife?
Statement Analysis gets to the truth.
Michael Peterson called 911, 2:40 am on 9 December, 2001
911: Durham 9-1-1. Where is your emergency?
Peterson:… Uuuuh, eighteen ten Cedar Street. Please!
It is interesting to note that the subject began with a pause, making the question of his address "sensitive" to him.
Since he would require no pre-thought for his address, what might have caused the pause in needing to choose his words?
Consider that 911 calls are, in a sense, "excited utterance." Being emotionally upset is presupposed.
Was it that the subject was considering that he was going to answer "What is your emergency?" rather than the address?
This might have caught him unprepared for "going off script" as it becomes slightly unexpected for a subject.
911: What’s wrong?
This is similar to "What happened?, What is your emergency?" and so on. We expect him to report what happened, to whom it happened and to ask for help for the victim. We sometimes find within "guilty caller status" the subject asking for help for himself. This is appropriate if he is asking for specific guidance for CPR or first aid. Otherwise, it is often noted as a form of leakage where the caller recognizes that he, himself, needs help.
Peterson: My wife had an accident, she is still breathing!
The subject begins with a classification of what happened: she had an accident. This is his priority: not that the authorities/police/medical assistance knows what is wrong, or what happened, but that what happened to her was not intention.
Hence, he begins with the suggestion of self protection or protection of someone who is not the victim.
a. We do not know what happened to her
b. We do not know what injuries she has
c. We do not know how directives for first aid or CPR may be given because we do not what know is wrong.
Next we note that he calls her "my wife." This is interesting.
We do not always expect a complete social introduction in the opening response to "what happened?" or "what is wrong?" due to urgency. Therefore, we cannot conclude here that the absence of her name (ISI) is indicative of a poor relationship. It very well may be, but due to the urgency of an emergency call, we note it yet without putting too much emphasis upon it.
Please also note that if his wife is not to survive (dead or close to dead), the relationship can "improve" for the subject. This is not reality. This is his verbalized perception of reality. If the relationship was very bad, it could, in his mind (as seen in his words) have a new status (positive) since he would thus be free from her.
Lastly we note something most unusual in his priority.
This is where he chose to begin the information:
a. Alibi (what happened to her was not intentional)
b. Without telling us what happened or what need is present
The word "still" is a word from the element of time. It is found in a sentence where time is elapsing.
He does not wait to be asked, "Is she breathing?" after saying, "my wife fell down the stairs" but wants police to know she is "still breathing,"
This indicates a monitoring of her breathing during the passage of time. Remember he began with intention ("accident" to make a conclusion) and here, the law of economy is reversed in order to give a single, small additional and unnecessary word: "still" to tell us:
He had expectation that she would no longer be breathing.
In an attempt to portray himself as in earnest for her care, he did not wait until he was asked but anticipated the question. Now consider this unnecessary piece of information and compare it to the pause of sensitivity needed to give his address.
She is "still" breathing indicates that he has allowed time to elapse before calling 911 and he did not expect her to be breathing by the time he made this call .
When taken with the "conclusion of the matter"; that she died as a result of no one person's guilty, it is to affirm the guilty murder verdict found in court. In the status of guilty knowledge of a crime in an emergency call, he indicates guilt.
He has, via Statement Analysis, admitted to delaying the seeking of help for his wife and that he personally expected her to be no longer breathing by now.
That police know it was not his intention. This is to show that he does not have a priority of getting her help.
Let's see if he asks for help for her, or help for him to administer emergency first aid.
911: What kind of accident?
Peterson: She fell down the stairs, she is still breathing! Please come!
This is where scripted language becomes evident.
He now tells police that she fell down the stairs. This is more detail and it is significant. He does not, however, ask for help for her, nor does he report her status. Her status would be about blood or how to help her via first aid. "Please come" using politeness (Ingratiation seeking to be "the good guy" such as on the side of police) and to "come" but not to assist the victim.
"please" in repetition shows an acute need to be "on the side of good", that is, police. This is the "Ingratiation Factor" we find in various settings, including in guilty statements, missing children, as well as a technique used in interviewing.
911: How many stairs did she fall down?
The subject has not given any indication of her condition for which the operator can direct first aid. Since nothing is offered, the operator is searching for information. This is to indicate:
Every 911 call, like every interview, will give the Interviewer (operator) one of two impressions:
Either the subject is working with me to facilitate the flow of information, or he is not.
Peterson: What? What?
911: How many stairs did...
911: How many stairs?
Peterson:… Um, um, uh, (etc)
911: Calm down, sir, calm down.
Peterson: No, damned, sixteen, twenty. I don’t know. Please! Get somebody here, right away. Please!
This was not a question he expected and he would need just a second or two to quickly count the number of steps. This would also focus him upon the victim which would then give information to the police on how to advise first aid.
Did he not hear her?
This is not likely as he is able to repeat her words. He is on hormonal "high alert"?
Or, is the repetition (sensitivity) due to stalling because he was not in close proximity to the victim?
This is something very concerning because it is expected that he would be right with his wife (describing the breathing) and able to follow directions.
He shows scripted urgency. He does not ask for help for his wife, nor does he ask for help for himself to administer emergency aid to her. This is to make a "show" of concern, but linguistically: he is not concerned for the victim.
911: Okay somebody’s dispatching the ambulance while I’m asking you questions.
911: Okay, sir? Somebody else is dispatching the ambulance. Is she awake now?
Peterson:… Uummh… uuh…
911: Hello? Hello?
Peterson:… Um, uh, uh, (etc).
It may have been that he went to the stairs to give an answer to the question. Seeing his wife may have startled him, but in any case, this question, easy for someone with the victim, caused him great difficulty. This suggests that he was not with the victim.
2:46 am Second call:
911: Durham 9-1-1: Where is your emergency?
Peterson: Where are they?! It’s eighteen ten Cedar. She’s not breathing! Please! Please, would you hurry up!
Here is an important change: she is not "still breathing" but now "not breathing."
We note that he did not use her name in the call, nor did he address her. We now look back to the initial incomplete social introduction.
He does not ask for help for the victim, nor for himself in administering CPR.
Peterson: Can you hear me?
911: Sir, calm down. They’re on their way. Can you tell me for sure she’s not breathing? Sir? Hello? Hello?
911 Call Analysis Conclusion:
The subject has guilty knowledge of what happened to his wife, uses scripted language, and reveals that he delayed calling 911 so that his expectation of her breathing stopping, would be fulfilled. This speaks to premeditated murder.
Here is from 2003 where Peterson spoke before the trial. We look for him to guide us to the truth. Was he nervous about the trial?
"No. Absolutely not. I'm not worried about what's going to happen because I know what happened and what did not happen, and I know it'll all work out."
This news interview continued.
"I don't know if it was murder. I don't know. When I called 911, I thought she had fallen down the stairs and as far as I know, that's what happened."
Here he refuses to commit in spite of "knowing" what happened and knowing what "did not" happen. The Rule of the Negative makes it the most important part of the sentence.
He is deceptive. He maintains his deception by being technically truthful but concealing information. This is how more than 90% of deception is used.
Michael Peterson's original conviction was correct.
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