Sky's true crime miniseries The Staircase has now come to an end, after recreating the case of Michael Peterson, an American novelist who was convicted for the death of his wife Kathleen.
The tragic couple were played in the series by Colin Firth and Toni Collette, and the eight episodes charted Peterson's murder conviction in 2003, with the verdict being thrown out in 2011 after a blood spatter analyst for the prosecution was found to have given misleading testimony.
At a retrial, Peterson entered an Alford plea, bringing proceedings to an end after 16 years.
But just what is an Alford plea and why did Peterson enter one? Read on for everything you need to know about how the real-life trial behind The Staircase came to an end.
What is an Alford plea?
In the American justice system, an Alford plea means that a defendant can plead guilty yet still maintain their innocence and not admit to the crime they are accused of committing.
While the defendant is still pleading guilty with an Alford plea, this is because they are admitting that the prosecution has enough evidence to persuade a judge or jury that they committed the crime - they therefore choose under these circumstances to be treated as guilty and move forward to sentencing.
The Alford plea gets its name from the 1970 case North Carolina v. Alford, in which the defendant, Henry Alford, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in order to avoid the death penalty for the crime he was initially charged with, first degree murder.
When Alford later argued that his plea was "involuntary because its principal motivation was fear of the death penalty", a lengthy series of proceedings resulted in the Supreme Court of the United States ruling that “an individual accused of crime may voluntarily, knowingly, and understandingly consent to the imposition of a prison sentence even if he is unwilling or unable to admit his participation in the acts constituting the crime".
Why did Peterson enter an Alford plea?
Michael Peterson, entered an Alford plea on 24th February 2017 to the voluntary manslaughter of his wife Kathleen. He was subsequently sentenced to 86 months in jail, but as he had already served more than that amount of time the judge allowed this to be counted as credit, and he served no further jail time.
He explained in an interview following the plea that accepting it was the "most difficult thing I've ever done" but that he accepted it because "the second most difficult thing I ever did in my life was to sit through that trial".
He claimed that the judicial system "is stacked against the defendant" and that he decided his son was right in asking him "why fight when it doesn't really mean anything?"
What happened to Michael Peterson next?
After his sentencing, Peterson wrote a biographical memoir entitled Behind the Staircase, which was released in 2019, telling the whole progression of events from his perspective.
Peterson remains a free man and is now 78 years old. You can read more about where the real life figure is now, here.
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