But an Owl!? Really? The answer is yes. Or at least maybe. Best selling author Michael Petersen was just granted a new trial for the murder of his wife. He was convicted in 2003 of murdering his wife in 2001 by pushing her down the stairs in their family home. The prosecution's theory was that his wife, Kathleen, was angry with Michael because of alleged homosexual activity. He hit her on the head and pushed her down the stairs. At trial, Michael's defense was that she had a 0.7 blood alcohol and had taken a Valium. The end result was a conviction.
In 2009 two things happened. A new and novel theory emerged of the cause of death and evidence of prosecutorial misconduct arose. It turned out that microscopic owl feathers and a sliver of wood were found during the forensic examination by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation of a clump of Kathleen's hair that was found clutched in her hand. Plus, the SBI apparently thought the blood splatters were going up the stairs and not down as would have been the case had she been pushed from the top. A 2008 re-examination of the forensic evidence found more feathers, which were of the type that cover the claw of an owl, and slivers of cedar needles in the skin of her knee--both of which would be consistent with an attack from an owl and an ensuing fall outside. Finally, the defense had a scientist at the Smithsonian look at the cuts to Kathleen's scalp. The ones the prosecution said were evidence of Michael's attack while throwing her down the stairs. The expert found that the scalp wounds were tri-lobed and paired consistent with marks left by talons. Did I mention that the SBI found Kathleen's footprints in her own blood at the base of the stairs (meaning she could not have died after being thrown down unless she arose from the dead only to lie back down again in a sprawl) and the blood drops outside the house? Apparently, the prosecution forgot to mention those facts also. Oh, and there was one more thing that may have been in the back of the judge's mind when he granted the motion for a new trial. The lead prosecutor on the case? Michael Nifong, the disgraced, disbarred and sentenced to jail former prosecutor of the Duke Lacrosse case who made up or omitted a lot of facts so he could get a high profile conviction at election time.