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Judge OKs E-Mail Evidence in Murder Case

August 7, 2003

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) _ E-mail evidence indicating a novelist accused of killing his wife discussed having sex with a man may be used as evidence against him, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Orlando Hudson ruled in favor of prosecutors who said the e-mail and gay pornography found on Michael Peterson’s home computer support their theory that Peterson didn’t have the happy marriage his lawyers have described.

Peterson, a novelist and former newspaper columnist, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Kathleen, on Dec. 9, 2001. Prosecutors say he beat her to death and tried to make it look like an accident; defense lawyers say she had been drinking and fell down a flight of stairs in their home.

Prosecutors said the e-mail exchanges showed that Peterson discussed paying for sex with the man, whose name was not disclosed. The evidence is important not because it showed Peterson was interested in men, but because ``it’s relations outside of marriage,″ prosecutor David Saacks said Thursday in a hearing without the jury present.

``If it’s an idyllic relationship in this marriage, why is he e-mailing″ the man, Saacks said.

But defense attorney Thomas Maher said Peterson wasn’t emotionally involved with the man. ``This was strictly business,″ he said.

The hearing continued Thursday morning without the jury, with testimony by a computer expert who discussed how the information was retrieved.

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