Making The Owl Case

Officials should get serious about the idea Kathleen Peterson was killed by an owl, theorist says

BY T. LAWRENCE POLLARD

Recently, there have been numerous articles and letters to the editors berating the purported “owl theory” in the Michael Peterson case by former Congressman Nick Galifianakis and myself. We would like to clarify some misconceptions and misrepresentations regarding it.

The owl theory does not purport Kathleen Peterson was attacked and killed inside the stairway, but rather was attacked and cut outside the house on or near the circular driveway on the Kent Street side of the house. We believe she ran inside, fainted or collapsed into the stairwell, went into shock, and ultimately bled to death.

There was blood found outside the house on the brick walkway and front door landing leading into the house. Though only a few drops, we contend this is where the blood trail starts, leads inside the door where more blood was seen on the door handle and a smear above the door lock. There is another spot on the corridor floor highlighted by the police videotape taken that night and presented at trial. Mrs. Peterson is at the end of the corridor, or hallway. We theorize the attack occurred outside the house because a blood trail always starts with one drop, not a massive pool.

Talons match wounds

We further theorize that Mrs. Peterson was plausibly struck by an owl outside and received seven to eight deep lacerations on the back and side of her head at one instant. The shape, depth and number of the lacerations depicted on the autopsy diagram and seen in the police photographs clearly resemble two claw marks, or footprints of a raptor, and a “raking” of the scalp. This matches Dr. Deborah Radisch’s description of the wounds to the jury as being “tri-pronged … rakelike.”

In addition, the wounds are through to the skull, but do not break the skull, which would be expected of a raptor attack. The impact of the owl’s cylindrical toes and the grasping mechanism of the owl hindlimbs would have caused the talons on the end of the toes to cut and tear the soft tissue in the back of Mrs. Peterson’s head. We believe this to be a rational explanation of the wounds she received.

It has been stated there were no feathers or other evidence found outside the house and therefore the owl theory is absurd. On the contrary, one would not expect to find large feathers. Owls attack prey every night, and if they lost feathers every time they attacked, they would not survive long in the wild. Also, this was not a fight with an owl, but rather a surprise attack from the rear. Besides, I do not think anyone was looking for feathers.

However, the toes of owls are cov. ered with soft, microscopic feathers, and perhaps evidence of these feathers might still be found within the wounds. Other DNA material might be there also, i.e., broken talon tips, or talon sheathing, or microscopic grooves on the skull or the lining surrounding the skull. The direction of the soft tissue tears in the lacerations would also yield conclusions as to the direction of the hit as well as the angle of the attack. All of these would be exonerating pieces of evidence, and can best be established forensically.

Take another look

That is why we have respectfully urged the District Attorney to look again at the evidence in the police lockers and medical records to determine if an exhumation of the body is warranted. We believe this to be a reasonable request and the proper procedure.

Some have questioned our motives in raising this theory. Because owls are known to be in this area, and have the potential to render vicious cuts. and because of the resemblance of the wounds to marks caused by owls, we felt the responsible thing to do was to bring this to the attention of the authorities. Also, recently there have been reports in the press of other attack by wild creatures, i.e. mountain lions, sharks, bears and tigers, which demonstrate the vicious propensity of wild animals. Although very rare, these attacks do happen. That is why we suggested using the modern techniques of forensic science such as DNA testing to determine if this was indeed an attack by an owl or other bird of prey.

Armed with our local knowledge of the neighborhood and the extensive research done formulating the theory, it was also brought to the attention of the authorities in this case because it is their responsibility to assure justice has been served in this case. It is also the duty of our judicial system to be fair to any defendant and pursue any potentially exonerating evidence.

We believe there is enough compelling and circumstantial evidence indicating the possibility of an owl attack that it warrants a reexamination of the wounds and existing evidence, and that it is only the right and proper thing to do.

The writer is a Durham attorney.

This article originally appeared in The Herald-Sun, January 18, 2004.

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