‘The Staircase’ Episode 7: Recap And Ending, Explained – What Did The Project For Actual Innocence Find?


With “The Staircase” very close to its end, Episode 7 presents all the new findings that affect the case and nicely builds it up towards a final climax. Although the owl theory presented by independent attorney Larry Pollard in the previous episode could never be put up in court, newer theories and possibilities cropped up with time. It is all of this that the new episode brings to light, along with Kathleen’s own extreme stress just days before her death.

Episode 7 Recap

Episode 7 begins on a dark night with a man’s death—unlike the death that served as the show’s primary focus, this death is a clear murder, as one man beats the other on his head to death. This murder, later on, is found out to be that of Dennis Rowe, who had earlier spilled beans about his sexual intimacy with Michael Peterson. Sometime around 2010, Sophie Brunet receives news of this murder from an anonymous source in the Durham county mortuary, along with the autopsy report. At the time, she felt stuck and disillusioned with her situation in Durham, as she had to stay away from Michael and was unable to help him in any way, and had therefore decided to return to Paris. But the emails give her a new opportunity to explore, and she visits Dr. Deborah Radisch in her office. Dennis had been found with deep lacerations on his scalp but with no fracture or injury to the skull or brain. Sophie tries to speculate a tie between the murders of Dennis Rowe and Kathleen in terms of the possibility of both crimes being committed by the same person. However, other evidence in Dennis’ case clearly proved it to be a murder, and Dr. Radisch looks at this case as evidence of proof that one can be beaten to death without major skull or brain impacts, further solidifying her belief that it was Michael who had killed his wife. Sophie quickly turns to Art Holland, a senior inspector in Durham’s police department, and interviews him on camera, which reveals that Dennis Rowe’s murderer was a certain Tyrone Lacour. Although Holland’s investigation, based on Sophie’s speculation, does not lead anywhere, he reveals to her that Michael had most possibly been sexually involved with Lacour as well. This seems to affect Sophie, and for the first time, she questions Michael’s honesty when she visits him in prison next. Michael does not answer her question with surety, as he says he does not know the name Lacour, although he admits it could be possible that he did have sex with the man. Sophie lividly exclaims that she will not remain hoodwinked like his previous wives, and neither would she be okay with him having multiple sexual encounters behind her back. She finally returns to Paris, where she admits to Jean-Xavier that she too now feels the urge to know what had really happened on that night. However, either some more evidence comes up in between, or her love for Michael simply returns, as Sophie is seen again in 2017, trying to convince Michael to sign the Alford plea. Although Michael still seems very unwilling to say out loud in court that he killed his wife, the man does now seriously consider the option by weighing all the betterment it will bring to his captive life.

Around the same time when Sophie was gradually growing close with Michael, sisters Margaret and Martha now started growing distant. After Martha was off her phase of depression and drug abuse, she revealed to her sister her plans to visit Germany and take a look at their original house. Strangely, as always, Margaret is angered by her sister’s decision, and Martha finds a similarity in her behavior to how Michael would retort at them whenever they asked about their original parents. Despite Margaret desperately holding on to her step-father’s innocence and wanting no more digging into the past, Martha does visit Germany and sees the house where her biological mother has been found dead. She meets with Agnes Schaefer, their nanny, who had testified in court, and learns from her that Michael used to physically hit the children when he was unable to control them. Michael and Patricia had also tried to give away Margaret and Martha to numerous couples, and transported them from one family to another, before deciding to keep one sister and give away the other. Martha confronts Patricia about this, and the woman admits to all of it, saying that they could not figure out what to do before finally settling to keep the girls with them.

A few days before her untimely death, Kathleen had been busy shopping for Christmas and preparing for the grand party that she wanted to host with all her children returning home. However, Kathleen was also terribly stressed about the situation in her office, Nortel. During a Christmas party held by the company some two or three days before her death, she had learned that Nortel was messing up its business by having to sell off a company it had just bought over. The next day, she is called by her administrative superiors, who reveal that there would be no year-end bonuses provided due to bad business. Kathleen, who had been following the company’s performance in the stock market, is enraged at such a minuscule step taken by the administration to face such a huge loss. The company’s stock kept diving down for twenty minutes or so, which meant, as Kathleen reveals, that the woman had lost a huge amount of money that she had saved up in shares. Kathleen’s strange and somewhat hysterical outburst heavily suggests her stress and its toll on her mental health, as she very unnaturally cries and laughs at the same time. She then meets Michael for lunch and has another episode of tremendous outburst of anger, as she believes that her husband does nothing other than waste her money. When the couple drives home that evening, Michael stays back in the car listening to music, while Kathleen enters the house and decides to drive out the bats in her attic once and for all. As Michael sits and playfully (or maybe not) traces his wife’s movement inside the house with his fingers pointed like a gun, he suddenly hears glass shatter and sees numerous bats fly out of his attic.

Although “The Staircase” Episode 7 does not reveal any direct effect that it has on Michael Peterson’s case, a huge breakthrough has arrived through the investigative reports of the Project for Actual Innocence. The non-profit organization looks into potential cases trying to prove the innocence of people found guilty by the court, and its North Carolina branch had been investigating the case of Michael. Evelyn Ivins, the investigator looking into this case, found numerous pieces of evidence of the State Bureau of Investigation being a corrupt machinery of the state’s prosecution and directly the District Attorney. Evelyn tracks down Freda Black, who used to be the assistant DA to Jim Hardin, and the latter agrees to help. Soon, reports of massive fraudulence come out, and Duane Deaver, the SBI analyst who had testified in Michael’s court case, is immediately arrested. Michael’s brother, Bill, again contacts David Rudolf, who had left the case three years ago, and asks the lawyer to take up the case again. The defense once again prepares a case, and a retrial hearing is provided by the court on the 10th of December, 2011. It is on the previous night that the episode ends, as all four of the Peterson children arrive at a hotel in Durham and unite before a possibly landmark day. Clayton brings his wife and two daughters, while Todd and Martha arrive on their own. Margaret, who is now divorced, visits their old house once before going over to the hotel, and her relationship with Martha now seems quite visibly distanced.

What Was The New Evidence Shown In Episode 7? What Did They Imply?

The first major happening that is now presented is the murder of Dennis Rowe by Tyrone Lacour. When Sophie learns of this killing, and especially the way in which it was done, she presents her theory to Art Holland; that Lacour had possibly entered the Peterson house on the night of Kathleen’s death, and it was he who had killed the woman. Although no motive was apparent to her, she concentrated on the fact that Lacour could have killed the two in the same manner, as the marks and damage done to the two bodies matched. However, Holland very quickly dismisses the idea, revealing that Dennis had mentioned the name of Tyrone Lacour in his list of names of all the men Michael slept around with. It is possibly for this, or a similar reason, that Lacour now murders Dennis, as the series had earlier shown Lacour threatening Dennis if he ever opened his mouth again. Sophie still tries to hold on to her theory, and asks Holland to investigate the possibility. However, the final nail in this regard is hit by Holland when he confirms that Tyrone Lacour was actually in prison on the 9th of December, 2001, the night of Kathleen’s death.

The second, and much larger and more significant, piece of evidence presented in “The Staircase” Episode 7 is the Project for Actual Innocence and their findings. It seems that the organization had been looking into multiple cases in North Carolina over the suspicion of the SBI’s corruption. When Evelyn Ivins meets with Freda Black, the once-assistant DA now works in a dry cleaner shop while the DA she served, Jim Hardin, has become a top judge. Evelyn strikes this chord and uses it to bring Freda on her side, as it is revealed that although the SBI is an agency separate from the DA’s office or Durham City Council, it is actually the DA’s office that gives yearly performance reviews to every SBI analyst. Although she initially denies claims of any wrongdoing, Freda ultimately agrees to help Evelyn, and shocking evidence is soon revealed. Greg Taylor, a man living in North Carolina, had been arrested in 1993 on charge of homicide, based on evidence of a single blood spot found on his car, which had been presented in court by SBI’s Duane Deaver. However, a second test was conducted, which clearly reported that the spot could not be of human blood, but this was never reported to the court, as the SBI often hid evidence that would move a case against the state’s prosecution. It was this very same Duane Deaver who had performed the tests on how Michael Peterson might have struck his wife to death, and the SBI agent had testified in this case as well. Now, with the knowledge of the man’s dirty corruption, David Rudolf and his team dig up facts about Deaver pertaining to Michael’s case. During his testimony in Michael’s trial in 2003, Deaver claimed to be an expert, having solved 500 cases with blood spatter, but till then, he had been involved in only fifty-four cases. Knowing that the SBI agent had lied under oath in court, Rudolf starts to prepare reports trying to prove that Deaver’s false statements had swayed the jury towards their decision.

What To Expect Next From Episode 8?

HBO’s “The Staircase” will finally come to an end next week with the release of its eighth episode, and how the fiction show based on actual events comes to the point of culmination is, of course, the biggest thing to look forward to. Till now, the show has tried to present both sides of the court case, sometimes with the subtlest of scenes, as it paints Michael Peterson in the shades of both a potential murderer and a potential victim of administrative corruption. Although it seems very unlikely, whether the show takes any particular stand in this case might be something to watch. It might also provide some recent information about all the actual people involved in the case, particularly Michael Peterson, who still lives, and his family. Ultimately, it wouldn’t be wise to expect any certain and conclusive ending from a show that is based on a real case that itself remains inconclusive, and so how the end is presented is all that would matter.

See More: ‘The Staircase’ Ending, Explained: Did Michael Peterson Actually Kill His Wife, Kathleen?

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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