I Must Confess: I’m Horny for David Rudolf in ‘The Staircase’

Justice may be blind, but I'm not. WYD later, David?

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I Must Confess: I’m Horny for David Rudolf in ‘The Staircase’
Photo:Netflix

We over here at Jezebel have a collective obsession with The Staircase that does not appear to be shared by the majority of the population. My esteemed colleague Gabrielle Bruney found herself searching the phrase “Colin Firth eats Toni Collette’s ass” on Twitter this week, to disappointingly few results. And for years, I’ve secretly found myself twirling my hair whenever now-72-year-old David Rudolf, Michael Peterson’s attorney, appears onscreen in the Netflix docuseries.

Now, I know I’m guilty of a fondness for graying men from New York, but hear me out: There are plenty of reasons to risk it all Rudolf. And I know I’m not alone.

In 2018, when The Staircase—a 13-part docuseries about the trial of Peterson, an eccentric novelist who was convicted of killing his wife—first premiered, audiences were first faced with the same questions HBO audiences are now trying to answer via a new drama series: Is it possible that Peterson viciously murdered a woman he repeatedly avowed as “his soulmate?” How could an “accidental fall” down the stairs produce that much blood? Did Kathleen Peterson truly know about her husband’s bisexuality and online dalliances? I, too, have mulled over each one—recently revisiting The Staircase twice, devoting myself to podcasts about the series and yes, like any self-respecting true crime sleuth, launching my own amateur investigation.

According to Rudolf’s bio, the criminal defense and civil rights attorney has been representing poor and marginalized people for four decades—from working for the Federal Defender in Brooklyn to inspiring students at the Criminal Law Clinic at the University of North Carolina School of Law to starting his own firm in Charlotte. Just before the Peterson case, Rudolf famously represented Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth when he was implicated in the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. By the time he took Peterson on as a client, he’d earned a reputation not only as a preeminent defense lawyer for largely powerless individuals facing an over-empowered government, but a staunch critic of the inherent corruption baked into the American criminal justice system—which is just about the sexiest sentence I’ve ever typed.

If, for some reason, you haven’t seen any iteration of The Staircase, when audiences first meet the bespectacled salt-and-pepper legal eagle, it’s his pragmatic approach to Peterson’s dismal circumstances as the only witness to his wife’s grisly death that I noticed first. Rudolf, in all of his acid-washed denim glory, faces a feat of life-and-death proportions, and yet, he remains calm, collected and downright congenial. Even as he learns the case’s more disturbing details—namely, the blood spatter that appears as if actual buckets had been spilt, and the fact that another woman in Peterson’s inner circle was also found dead at the bottom of a staircase years earlier—he maintains an air of confidence in his client and in his own capabilities as an attorney. It’s a hard yes from me, your honor (he’s not a judge, I just really wanted to write that).

Considering that cameras have followed the case over the course of years, viewers intimately get acquainted with Rudolf. When he absolutely loses his shit over a slideshow or a bad Court TV commentator, I’m charmed; as he swills Pepsi One (RIP) and noshes on snacks mid-conversation, I get moony; watching him smack that fabled blow-poke against his palm had me thinking “Pure-T filth.” But nothing compares to when Rudolf leans back in his chair and smirks after a satisfying line of questioning during witness testimony. Sure, it’s turned some folks off—notably Kathleen Peterson’s sisters and the pig-ignorant prosecution—but I found myself fantasizing about that kind of erudite arrogance for days (that is, when I could distract myself from the fact that an innocent woman tragically lost her life).

While Peterson was ultimately convicted, Rudolf wasn’t deterred. Eight years later, he nabbed a new trial following the reveal of misleading testimony in the first one, and Peterson was released from prison on an Alford plea.

The docuseries has apparently catapulted Rudolf into true crime celebrity stardom, and justifiably so. Now, in addition to his day job, he travels the world doing speaking engagements (some of them even about the infamous Owl Theory), collecting prestigious awards and last year, authoring a book, American Injustice: Inside Stories from the Underbelly of the Criminal Justice System. Unfortunately, he’s also gotten married—to a former journalist, no less—with whom he shares a child, a podcast and yes, an art gallery that joins contemporary social issues with fine art. Some women really do have it all, I suppose.

Just after the HBO release—as audiences either started the Netflix documentary or returned to it—I combed the internet for other true crime coquettes with a crush on Rudolf. It didn’t take long to find them—and not just because I’m a fairly adept investigator. An entire reddit thread and several women on Twitter have apparently reached the same verdict I did years ago: “David Rudolf is so fucking hot wtf,” wrote one.

“[W]atching the staircase (2005) was a mistake bc now im sad but i also can’t stop thinking about how hot david rudolf is,” concluded another.

While the fact that he’s happily married with a seemingly rich life leaves me wanting to make a wildly insensitive joke about wanting to be mauled by a barred owl, I’ll resist the urge and simply leave it at this: Respectfully, I’d like to approach the bench.

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