Anatomy of a Murder: Moviegoers receive true-crime lesson from county prosecutor

Posted at 11:50 PM, Jan 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-08 23:50:33-05

MUSKEGON, Mich. -- Moviegoers in Muskegon County received an interesting perspective on a true crime case out of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

On Sunday, a screening of Anatomy of a Murder was held at the Harbor Cinema. The film, which was shot in 1959, is based on the book written by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker writing under the pen name Robert Traver. Voelker worked for the defense in the 1952 murder case.

In July of that year, Lt. Coleman A. Peterson shot and killed a man accused of raping his wife. During the trial, Voelker used a rare form of the insanity defense called irresistible impulse, which hadn't been used in Michigan in decades. Irresistible impulse focuses on the existence of mental illness and one's inability to control their actions in accordance with the law.

After four days of deliberation, Peterson was acquitted in the case. He was released from custody two days later after a psychiatrist evaluated him and found him to be sane. Following the verdict from the jury, Peterson and his wife got a divorce.

During Sunday's viewing, Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson spoke to that crowd about that defense tactic and the role played by attorneys and prosecutors in the courtroom.

"I get an opportunity at the end to talk about what we do as lawyers, in particular, prosecutors," said Hilson. "I hope they get a sense of the difference between Hollywood and real life. That's always a theme when we're trying cases. We have to make sure nobody comes into a courtroom with these expectations that they're going to see something like they see in the movies or TV."

Sunday was Hilson's second time seeing the film.