Peterson trial filled with drama, shouts, tears
JOLIET, Ill. (AP) – Drew Peterson’s third wife told a friend a year before she was found dead that the former suburban Chicago police officer grabbed her by the neck and demanded to know why she was still alive, the friend testified Thursday.
Peterson, 58, has pleaded not guilty to murder in the 2004 death of Kathleen Savio. He was only charged after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished in 2007, Peterson is a suspect in Stacy Peterson’s disappearance but has never been charged in that case.
Mary Parks, who studied nursing with Peterson’s third wife, told jurors that around Thanksgiving of 2003, Savio told her that Peterson had entered her suburban Chicago home, grabbed her neck as she came down stairs and pinned her down.
“She said that her husband said, “‘Why don’t you just die?'” Parks told jurors, her voice quivering.
The hearsay testimony, which is not based on a witness’ direct knowledge, is critical because police who investigated when Savio was found dead in a dry bathtub quickly decided it was an accident and did not collect any physical evidence. Illinois has adopted a law – dubbed “Drew’s Law” – that allows hearsay evidence in rare circumstances.
Parks said she and Savio spoke again a month later.
“Kathy told me that her husband … had told her that he could kill her and make her disappear,” she said.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Steve Greenberg suggested Savio may have been paranoid, and that her descriptions of clashes with Peterson may have been exaggerated to elicit sympathy from Parks.
But Savio’s friend stood her ground.
“Everything that she told me, I had no reason to doubt,” Parks said.
Before the trial began last week, Judge James Burmila left open the possibility he could prohibit most or even all of the hearsay statements at the very heart of the state’s case against Peterson. But in recent days, he has permitted several such statements, potentially boosting the state’s chances of a conviction. On Thursday he refused a defense request to bar Parks’ testimony.
In frequently contentious exchanges Thursday, Greenberg also said Parks’ accounts of what Savio told her have been inconsistent. He even asked why she kept looking to her left at jurors as she answered questions.
Parks shot back, “Is it inappropriate for me to do that?” After Parks asked the attorney another question, Burmila admonished her, saying “Don’t fence with counsel, ma’am.”
Legal arguments surrounding the use of hearsay have slowed the trial. Jurors are frequently asked to leave the courtroom so attorneys can argue over the admissibility of hearsay statements.
If Peterson is convicted, defense attorneys have said they could appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds that the hearsay should have been barred.
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