Peterson judge: Testimony done, closings next week
JOLIET, Ill. (AP) – A judge sent jurors home after they heard the last testimony at Drew Peterson’s murder trial on Thursday, saying they will return after Labor Day to hear closing arguments.
The state called just two witnesses, both forensic pathologists, in a one-day rebuttal as they entered the last evidence against the former suburban Chicago police officer.
Peterson has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the 2004 death of his third wife, 40-year-old Kathleen Savio, who was found dead in her bathtub. He faces a maximum 60-year prison term if convicted.
Peterson was charged after his young fourth wife, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007. Authorities presume she is dead. Drew Peterson is a suspect in her disappearance but hasn’t been charged.
The pathologists who testified Thursday sought to reassert the state’s contention that Savio was killed in an attack. Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Mary Case countered assertions by pathologists testifying for the defense that a gash on the back of Savio’s head and wounds on her front resulted from one deadly slip in the tub.
“You don’t get these kind of injuries from a bathtub fall,” Case said.
Attorneys are expected to deliver closing arguments Tuesday.
Defense attorney Joe Lopez told reporters that he will try to fill out the story of his client’s innocence.
“Some of the things we were criticized for … when you put it together in the final story, you’ll say, ‘Now I see what they were doing,’” Lopez said. He didn’t elaborate.
The lead prosecutor, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, sounded upbeat as he left the courthouse Thursday.
“It has been a grueling five weeks, and we’re extremely satisfied with the place that we’re at right now,” Glasgow said about the trial.
Chris Koch, an assistant state’s attorney, is expected to deliver the closing. Glasgow will have the last word to jurors in a rebuttal.
In a case where there was no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio’s death and where prosecutors relied heavily on hearsay, the judge’s instructions on how jurors should assess testimony could be critical.
The state called more than 30 witnesses over their monthlong case, including several who testified about what Savio told them before she died and what Stacy Peterson said before she vanished. Hearsay, or statements not based on a witness’s direct knowledge, is typically barred in U.S. courts, but Illinois passed a law geared to Peterson’s case that allows it in certain circumstances.
The defense called about a dozen witnesses over three days this week, including the 19-year-old son of Drew Peterson and Savio. Thomas Peterson testified that he never believed for a second that his father killed his mother.
One challenge for prosecutors will be to convince jurors that Savio – whose death was initially ruled an accident – was, in fact, murdered. Both sides called pathologists to support their opposing contentions.
The challenge for the defense will be to discredit the hearsay. Several witnesses testified that Drew Peterson repeatedly threatened Savio, once by allegedly breaking into her home and telling her at knifepoint he could kill her and make it look accidental.
Among the testimony Lopez may have to account for is that of divorce lawyer Harry Smith. He told jurors how Stacy Peterson asked, days before she vanished, if she could extort her husband by threatening to tell police he killed Savio. The defense hoped to blunt Stacy Peterson’s credibility, but some observers said Smith’s testimony merely stressed to jurors that his fourth wife was convinced Peterson killed his third wife.
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