The man's daughters said they lied about the molestation 15 years ago. Now some have changed their stories again.
Four months ago, Norman Peterson's daughter pleaded with Gov. Jeb Bush to free her dad _ a convicted child molester _ from a Florida prison. Thursday, Bush denied the request, closing a chapter in a confusing case that has drawn international attention.
In a dramatic recantation, Jennifer Peterson and two of her sisters _ now grown _ signed affidavits saying they lied 15 years ago when they accused their father of molesting them in the tiny south Florida town of Clewiston, near Lake Okeechobee. The family said Peterson was innocent and asked Bush to grant him clemency.
Thursday, Bush spokeswoman Katie Baur cited a four-month Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation that indicates some of the girls have now changed their stories _ again.
The FDLE investigation concludes: "Two of the victims stated that, while they have no present memory of their father molesting them, they are now unsure about Norman Peterson's guilt or innocence and the veracity of their 1997 recantations. The third victim stated she is having dreams or flashbacks in which she is reasonably certain that her father is molesting her and her sister."
In their 1997 affidavits, all three girls said they were not abused by their father, but by Walter Krieg, who was having an affair with their mother and later married her. The girls were 5, 6 and 8 at the time, living in a trailer park. Peterson worked as a tile setter.
Early interviews with state child protection workers show the children differed on key details about the abuse. And a doctor's examination revealed no physical evidence of sexual abuse.
After being represented by a string of public defenders, Peterson pleaded no contest to the charges, hoping to get a lighter sentence. He got 45 years.
When Peterson went to prison, the family moved to Pennsylvania. Years later, one of the girls confided to a high school counselor that her stepfather had been raping her, and her sisters, for years. Krieg pleaded guilty to molesting and raping his stepdaughters. He was convicted and is serving prison time there.
With Krieg in prison, the girls began a campaign to free their father. They said their mother coerced them into accusing Peterson in the midst of a nasty divorce.
"It wasn't my dad," a tearful Jennifer, 23, told Bush and the Executive Board of Clemency in September.
Bush ordered the FDLE to investigate.
"The review of existing documentation and almost 50 interviews did not discredit the evidence which served as the basis for Mr. Peterson's plea and conviction," the FDLE report said.
"In a recorded message to his children, Peterson again admitted that he might be repressing the fact that he molested them and hoped his admission would help them "bring closure' to this issue."
FDLE investigators also said the girls' brother, David, gave sworn statements that he witnessed his father molesting his older sister.
But in September interviews with the St. Petersburg Times, David was adamant about his father's innocence. So were two of his sisters, who said Krieg terrorized them for years, and they only felt safe to tell the truth once he was behind bars.
A third sister, 21-year-old Chavonne, wavered. She told the Times she was having flashbacks and was "not sure who the guy is."
Reached Thursday, Chavonne said she's pleased with the governor's decision.
"If he did it, he needs to stay there," Chavonne said.
Peterson, 46, will stay at Glades Correctional Institution, where he has served 10 years of his 45-year sentence for lewd and lascivious conduct on a minor.
"I think it stinks," said Debra Clark of Jacksonville, Peterson's cousin. "The girls all signed statements saying he didn't do this. I think they perjured themselves."
The other Peterson children, 22-year-old David, 19-year-old Rosemarie, Jennifer and 17-year-old Michelle, could not be reached for comment.