In keeping with the growing trend of true crime narratives, Netflix has ordered three new episodes continuing the 2004 documentary series, “The Staircase.” The first episode is slated to premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival on April 28, with the original season as well as the new episodes coming to Netflix in the summer. Since it’s been 14 years since the original series ran, you might have forgotten a few things about it or missed it entirely.
Here’s everything you need to know (and remember) about it:
It Definitely Puts the “True” in True Crime
Originally released in 2004, “The Staircase” follows the indictment, trial, and conviction of crime author Michael Peterson for the death of his wife, Kathleen. In December 2001, she was found dead at the bottom of the staircase in their North Carolina home. Peterson was the only person in the house at the time.
As the trial progressed, it was revealed that a family friend had died nearly 20 years earlier in a startlingly similar way. She too was found at the bottom of a staircase, with Peterson being the only person present at the time of her death. Though Peterson was never charged with her death, he was convicted of his wife’s murder in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison when the original series concluded.
Its Director Is an Academy Award Winner
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For his work on the 2001 documentary film “Murder on a Sunday Morning,” director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade won an Oscar for Best Documentary. Interestingly enough, the film followed a young man accused of and subsequently acquitted of a murder he did not commit. “The Staircase” follows a similar narrative: Peterson’s guilt remains a point of controversy today, with many people still uncertain of his involvement in his wife’s death.
The Creators Filmed Everything, From Indictment to Verdict
“The Staircase” is perhaps most memorable for how thorough it was. De Lestrade and his team were granted complete access to Peterson’s defense team shortly after Kathleen’s death and had amassed over 600 hours of footage by the time of the trial’s completion, filming testimonies, the trial, and even how his defense team built a case to maintain his innocence.
Following Peterson’s conviction, they even interviewed the jury who sentenced him. De Lestrade would go on to produce a 2013 sequel film detailing Peterson’s fight for a retrial.
The Lack of a Murder Weapon and Other Factors Added to the Mystery
As the case progressed, details became increasingly muddled. Prosecutors never found a motive or a murder weapon in Kathleen’s murder. They cited Peterson’s bisexuality as a possible reason, but it went largely unfounded, as he maintained that his wife had already known about his sexual orientation.
As for the murder weapon, prosecutors tried to say that a blow poke was used to kill Kathleen, but the one owned by the Petersons was never moved from their garage. In 2009, a county attorney suggested that her injuries were consistent with that of an owl attack. Like her husband’s involvement, however, it was never proven. It continues to be one of wildest theories in the case.
The New Series Follows Michael Peterson’s Post-Prison Life
“The Staircase” continuation takes place “four years after a startling twist wins him release under house arrest,” according to Tribeca’s official series summary. Following the 2010 reveal of forensic incompetence in his case — later covered in de Lestrade’s sequel — and a 2017 plea deal, Peterson was released from prison.
Cited as “his final trial,” the docuseries will likely cover the repercussions of Peterson’s messy trial and his adjustment to life outside bars. He currently resides in North Carolina with his family and is working on a new book.
It’s One of Robert De Niro’s Top Picks for Tribeca This Year
Out of the myriad of films and television shows slated to appear at this year’s festival, De Niro listed the new episodes as one of his most anticipated premieres in an interview with the New York Times. The Academy Award-winning actor called the docuseries “great” and praised it for its mystery, stating “you just want to know what happened.”
“The Staircase” made his list alongside such cinema powerhouses as a remastered screening of Brian de Palma’s “Scarface” and Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List.”
“The Staircase” returns Summer 2018 to Netflix.