Drew Peterson judge notes potential holes in case
JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — The judge at Drew Peterson’s murder trial exposed potential holes in the state’s case against the former suburban Chicago police officer, telling prosecutors Friday that they have failed to either place Peterson in the bathroom where his third wife was found dead or illustrate exactly how he might have killed her.
The issue arose as the judge blocked a bid by prosecutors to introduce testimony that Peterson once received stranglehold training that would have given him special expertise in how to kill Kathleen Savio, 40, whose body was found in her dry bathtub. Peterson, 58, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in her 2004 drowning death.
Prosecutors told the judge — with jurors out of the courtroom — that they intended to introduce testimony about how the former Bolingbrook police sergeant might have gone about killing Savio by putting her in stranglehold. Judge Edward Burmila responded that it appeared they were trying to get jurors to speculate.
“You can’t be serious,” he balked. “You don’t even have any evidence linking him to the scene. Now you want to say this is what he did there?”
Prosecutors did not appear poised to address that potential weakness, indicating Friday that they likely would not call any more witnesses before they rest their case Monday morning. They appear to hold out hope that their circumstantial case, which included witnesses who testified Peterson repeatedly threatened Savio, was strong enough.
Prosecutors had said earlier they expected to rest Friday after calling more than 30 witnesses over four weeks. But arguments over the admissibility of evidence caused repeated delays.
Peterson lawyer Joe Lopez told reporters Friday afternoon that the defense was prepared to start mounting its case Monday. The defense’s witnesses will include three doctors and several officers who investigated Savio’s death in a case that should take two days, he said.
“It’ll go smoothly and it’ll go quick,” Lopez said.
The lead prosecutor, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, declined to comment about the testimony or evidence as he left the Joliet courthouse Friday.
As during most of the trial, Peterson — who gained a reputation for off-color jokes and boastful arrogance before his 2009 arrest — appeared relaxed Friday. During breaks, he smiled and chatted with attorneys and spectators sitting near the defense table.
Savio’s death was initially deemed an accident, and no physical evidence — fingerprints, hair or anything else — was collected at the scene. Her death was reclassified a homicide only after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, 23, disappeared in 2007. Drew Peterson is a suspect in Stacy Peterson’s disappearance but has not been charged. Authorities presume she is dead, though her body has never been found.
Earlier Friday, Burmila did let prosecutors enter evidence that Peterson received evidence-technician training as part of his job as an officer. The testimony was meant to bolster their contention he was more than capable of making a murder look like an accident.
Brian Hafner, a record-keeper with Bolingbrook police, testified that Peterson took brief courses more than 20 years ago on compiling evidence. Under cross-examination, he conceded he didn’t know what exactly was taught.
“I’m sure they taught something, but I would not know,” he said, prompting laughter in court.
“Do you know if they taught how to stage an accident, how to clean it up?” defense attorney Steve Greenberg pressed Hafner.
“I have no idea,” he responded.
Once prosecutors have rested, the defense is expected to ask Burmila to render a not guilty verdict before jurors even have a chance to deliberate. Such motions are common but rarely granted. But the uniqueness of the Savio case left experts wondering if Peterson’s judge could plausibly grant it.
Prosecutors have no physical evidence or direct witnesses putting Peterson in Savio’s house the day she died. They’ve had to rely on hearsay, or statements not based on the direct knowledge of a witness, from friends and relatives who testified that Savio told them Peterson warned her that he could kill her and make her death look accidental.
Such hearsay evidence is typically barred in American courts, but Illinois adopted a law in the wake of the Peterson case that allows it in certain circumstances. Defense attorneys have said that the law is unconstitutional and that they could appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If convicted, Peterson faces a maximum 60-year prison term.
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