The Staircase: Michael Peterson Pens Furious Response To HBO Series That 'Trashed Me'

HBO's true crime adaptation "The Staircase" continues to draw ire from those involved in the real-life story, as subject Michael Peterson has now shared any angry response via a series of emails to Variety. Peterson's defense attorney David Rudolf and three members of the real-life documentary team that's portrayed in the series — director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, producer Allyson Luchak, and editor Scott Stevenson — all recently spoke publicly about their problems with the Colin Firth-led dramatization. Peterson's son, Todd, took to Instagram to explain his own issues with the series.

The case of Kathleen Peterson, whose 2001 death at the foot of a set of stairs inspired the events of the HBO series, has been in the public consciousness for nearly two decades now. Michael Peterson, who called 911 at the crime scene, was eventually tried and convicted for his wife's murder in a highly dramatic trial that was captured via a 2004 docuseries by de Lestrade. Additional later episodes captured Peterson's overturned verdict and the Alford plea that led to his release.

The Peterson case is undoubtedly complicated, with factors — a similar death in the family's past, an unorthodox marital arrangement, an eleventh-hour evidence discovery — that have long made it a popular topic of debate for true crime aficionados. Yet Peterson and others seem to think the recently concluded HBO series, created by Antonio Campos and executive produced by de Lestrade, missed the mark in its portrayal of the real events.

Peterson singles out de Lestrade

"There are egregious fabrications and distortions of the truth in the HBO series, well beyond what may be considered 'artistic' license," Peterson told Variety. While parts of the series hew close to the version of events recounted by de Lestrade's documentary series, other parts — including the fifth episode, which implies that Brunet edited the series while romantically entangled with Peterson, and that documentarians argued about potential biases in the edit — have been heavily disputed by docuseries filmmakers, as reported by Vanity Fair.

Peterson's correspondence with Variety claims that the series contains false portrayals of familial infighting and scenes cribbed from his book "Behind the Staircase." He also takes particular issue with de Lestrade himself, who he says sold the family's story without informing them. Here's more from his statement:

"I have read about Jean de Lestrade's sense of betrayal by Antonio Campos and HBO Max's presentation of 'The Staircase,' but what has been forgotten or overlooked or simply ignored is his betrayal of me and my family. We feel that Jean pimped us out — sold OUR story to Campos for money — what word other than pimped describes what he did?"

Peterson says he doesn't care about being trashed by "The Staircase," but cares that, from his perspective, his children were. He writes that de Lestrade "showed no integrity or sense of responsibility to us" in the deal with HBO. For his part, de Lestrade disputes Peterson's claim that he never told Peterson about Campos' project, but also says he should have read scripts for the HBO show ahead of time. "I now know that I can't trust anyone in this business. I should have asked. It's my mistake," de Lestrade says.

Regardless of your opinions on the case or either series, this dispute serves as a pretty sobering reminder that true stories presented to viewers as "entertainment" always have real-world implications. You can read full statements from both de Lestrade and Peterson here.