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Written by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
Directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
No. of episodes 8
Running time 45
Distributor Maha Productions
Original release October 7 (2004-10-07)[1] – October 28, 2004 (2004-10-28)[2]

Soupçons (French for "Suspicions", also known as Death on the Staircase and The Staircase) is a 2004 French television miniseries by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade documenting the trial of Michael Peterson, accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson.

Following from de Lestrade's Oscar-winning Murder on a Sunday Morning, filming began soon after Peterson's indictment. Camera crews were given access to the accused's extended family, the defense attorneys, and to the court room.[3] The film features a brief appearance by Mike Nifong, a future figure in the Duke lacrosse case, working with the team prosecuting Peterson.

An abbreviated version was broadcast as special two-hour presentation of American news show Primetime Thursday on July 22, 2004.[4] The miniseries was completed in September,[5] and premiered in October on Canal+,[6] from January 10-14, 2005 on BBC Four (as part of its Storyville documentary series),[7] and from April 4-25 on Sundance Channel.[8][9]

The BBC featured an interview with Lestrade in 2005.[10]


In December 2001, novelist Michael Peterson called to report that his wife Kathleen had fallen down a set of stairs and died. The authorities disbelieved Peterson's story that Kathleen had fallen while drunk and concluded instead that Peterson had bludgeoned her to death, most likely with a fireplace poker which was discovered missing from the house. Peterson was soon charged with murder and the film details the ensuing case from the point of view of Peterson and his defense team, led by David Rudolf. During the trial it is discovered that while Peterson was living in Germany a family friend of his died from an intra-cerebral haemorrhage followed by the body falling down stairs after collapsing which resulted in similar head injuries to those sustained by Peterson's wife. An investigation by German police and US military authorities concluded that the death was accidental and Peterson ended up adopting the woman's two daughters. The prosecution introduced this death into the trial as an incident giving Peterson the idea of how to "fake" Kathleen's accident. During the trial, Peterson's daughters stand steadfastly by their father. The prosecution argues that Kathleen had discovered that Michael was bisexual and had been having affairs with men, which led to an argument where he bludgeoned her to death. Peterson claimed that his wife knew about his sexuality and that they had an open marriage. He claims to have been outside by their pool when Kathleen fell down the stairs and injured herself. A defense team recreation shows that it would have been possible for Peterson to have missed his wife's cries for help had he been by the pool. The jury ultimately convicts Peterson.


Reviews for The Staircase were generally positive. The film received an "exceptional quality" rating (8.5 out of 10) from based on 9 reviews.[11] It also won a Peabody Award in 2005.[12]


In April 2012, it was revealed that Lestrade was working on a two-hour follow-up film to The Staircase for French broadcaster Canal Plus,[13] after Michael Peterson was released from jail, pending a retrial. The sequel, subtitled "Last Chance," premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)[14] in November 2012.[15] It aired on Canal+ on January 30, 2013,[16] and on BBC Four's Storyville on February 4.[17] Sundance Channel aired a shorter alternative cut, presenting "Last Chance" as two new episodes of the original miniseries, airing March 4 and March 11, 2013.[5][18]

On November 23, 2015, Lestrade announced a second follow-up film at the IDFA Forum.[19] Entitled Staircase III, the hour-and-a-half film is to document the story of Peterson's final trial, set for early 2016. The film is commissioned by Canal Plus. Last Chance producer Matthieu Belghiti of What's Up Films is also attached.[20]


The 2017 sitcom Trial & Error parodies this documentary and the details of the case.


  1. ^ Icher, Bruno (7 October 2004). "Télé: "soupçons", du réel en tranches.". Libération (in French). Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  2. ^ Mathieu, Pierre. "De Lestrade, avocat à la caméra". La Dépêche. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Court TV coverage
  4. ^ "The Stair Case". ABC News. Archived from the original on 3 August 2004. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Lacob, Jace (4 March 2014). "The Staircase: Director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade on Michael Peterson, Owls, and More". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  6. ^ "The Staircase (Soupçons) (2004)". Maha Productions. Archived from the original on 24 June 2008. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  7. ^ "BBC - Storyville". BBC. Archived from the original on 13 January 2005. 
  8. ^ "With the Camera Lurking, Anatomy of a Defense Case". New York Times. 4 April 2005. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  9. ^ Catlin, Roger (25 April 2005). "Sundance Series Follows The Other Peterson Murder". The Hartford Courant. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  10. ^ "BBC interview with de Lestrade, January 6, 2005.". Archived from StoryVille the original Check |url= value (help) on 18 January 2005. 
  11. ^ "Reviews". Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  12. ^ 65th Annual Peabody Awards, May 2006.
  13. ^ Adam Benzine (April 3, 2012). "De Lestrade making sequel to "The Staircase"". Realscreen. Retrieved April 5, 2012. 
  14. ^ "IDFA Catalogue 2012" (Adobe Flash). Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  15. ^ "The Staircase 2: The Last Chance" (Adobe Flash). IDFA Special (English ed.) (1). 15 November 2012. 
  16. ^ "Soupçons – La dernière chance". Canal+. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  17. ^ "Death on the Staircase: The Last Chance". BBC. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  18. ^ "the staircase – new episodes coming soon". Sundance Channel. 28 November 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  19. ^ Goodfellow, Melanie (25 November 2015). "Lestrade steps up" (Portable Document Format). IDFA Industry Special 2015 (4): 1. Retrieved 14 April 2016. 
  20. ^ "Staircase III". IDFA. Retrieved 14 April 2016. 

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