A documentary series by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

DOCUMENTARY / 13x50’ / CANAL +, NETFLIX / 2004-2018


The life of Michael Peterson, a former marine who becomes a bestselling novelist, is turned upside down on the night of December 9th 2001, when his wife Kathleen is found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their North Carolina home and the police accuse him of murder. Filmed over 15+ years, The Staircase tells the inside story of the heated battle between police investigators, forensic experts, crime authorities, prosecutors, the judge, and David Rudolf, the meticulous and hard-working defense attorney at Peterson’s first trial, which dragged on for several weeks. Despite the absence of a motive or evidence, Michael’s fate seems sealed and a family’s life is crushed by the U.S. judicial system. An up-close-and-personal look at a stunning criminal case and wrenching human saga, filled with more twists and turns than anyone could ever have imagined!

SYNOPSIS / episode 1: Crime or Accident?

Michael Peterson relates his version of the fatal events of Dec. 9, 2001. Oscar winning filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade chronicles the sensational murder trial, granted unusual access to Peterson’s lawyers and his immediate family.

SYNOPSIS / episode 2: Secrets and Lies

Michael Peterson’s hidden sex life comes shockingly out in the open. Was his loving relationship with his wife authentic or a complete fraud?

SYNOPSIS / episode 3: A Striking Coincidence

The death of another woman close to Peterson from 17 years earlier sparks a new investigation. She also died on a staircase, casting major doubts over the defense case.

SYNOPSIS / episode 4: A Prosecution Trickery

On the eve of the trial, a damning report in the press threatens Peterson’s defense, who believe the prosecution is unfairly trying their case in the media.

SYNOPSIS / episode 5: A Weak Case

The prosecution presents its case that Michael Peterson murdered his wife. The defense questions the validity of the forensic testimony presented.

SYNOPSIS / episode 6: The Prosecution's Revenge

A reluctant witness with shadowy ties to Peterson rivets the attention of the courtroom. How will his testimony sway the jury?

SYNOPSIS / episode 7: The Blowpoke Returns

In another shocking twist to this murder trial, a new discovery comes to the attention of the defense. Has the murder weapon finally been found?

SYNOPSIS / episode 8: The Verdict

Michael Peterson’s fate hangs in the balance as the jury delivers the final verdict. Will justice be served?

SYNOPSIS / episode 9: Reopen the Case

Flashforward to 2011. It has been eight years since Peterson was incarcerated in prison. His family and his lawyers have never given up hope for an appeal, but the North Carolina Court of Appeal and Supreme Court have denied him the right to a new trial. As this chapter recalls the details of the case, a dramatic twist throws doubt on his conviction, and we visit a tired and emaciated Peterson in his prison cell.

SYNOPSIS / episode 10: The Last Chance

The testimony of one of the key witnesses in Peterson’s trial, forensic investigator Duane Deaver, has come into question. And as a result, in December of 2011, Peterson is released on parole. But he is by no means a free man. There are very important choices to make-and more twists in the Peterson saga to come.

SYNOPSIS / episode 11: Looking For Closure

Should Peterson undergo a second trial (and risk another conviction) or plead guilty? He says he totally rejects the word “guilty,” but saying it in a courtroom could be the only way to close the case and ensure his freedom. Peterson’s family discusses their relief at his parole, but also their fears at what lies ahead.

SYNOPSIS / episode 12: Between Despair and Anger

The judge in Peterson’s original trial rules that, notwithstanding Deaver’s misconduct, there will be no dismissal of his conviction. David Rudolf, Peterson’s friend and lawyer has declined to represent him at a new trial, but explains that a second jury might be no more equitable than the first. Proposals are advanced for Peterson to plead guilty, but he still refuses to pronounce the word.

SYNOPSIS / episode 13: Flawed Justice

After much fraught deliberations, a deal has been negotiated for an “Alford plea,” wherein Peterson will plead guilty while still asserting his innocence. He attends the hearing, facing his late wife’s sisters, who still believe that he murdered her.


Directing : Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
Photography : Isabelle Razavet
Editing : Sophie Brunet, Scott Stevenson, Jean-Pierre Bloc
Sound Recording : Yves Grasso
Original Score : Jocelyn Pook
Colour Grading : Éric Heinrich, Isabelle Laclau
Mix : Anne-Laure François, Christophe Couget Moréno, Matthieu Deniau
Graphic Design : Laurent Brett
Production : What’s Up Films
Festival(s) :

With the participation of Canal+ and Netflix