Drew Peterson introduced himself to would-be jurors Monday as jury selection began in the former suburban Chicago police officer's long-delayed murder trial.
Peterson, 58, is charged with killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. Her body was found in a dry bathtub in her home, her hair soaked with blood. The ex-Bolingbrook police sergeant also is a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, although he has not been charged.
Peterson, his trademark mustache shaved off, stood and spoke to some 40 potential jurors as proceedings began Monday.
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I'm Mr. Peterson," he said in a steady voice.
During the trial, jurors are likely to hear statements the women allegedly made to friends and relatives about threats Peterson made. Such hearsay is usually barred, but an appellate court ruled jurors can hear the statements.
The 200-person jury pool has been waiting three years for a trial to get under way. It was put off because of appellate court battles over the hearsay statements.
"I've never heard of anything comparable to this — a jury pool waiting around for so long knowing what case they're going to be in and the reliance on hearsay," said Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago defense lawyer with no link to the case.
Publicity in the case is an issue as the judge and attorneys question jurors. The legal saga surrounding Peterson and whether he used his status as a police officer to try to get away with murder has attracted national attention. Rob Lowe portrayed Peterson in a 2011 TV movie, "Drew Peterson: Untouchable."
The defense raised concerns that some prospective jurors may have violated orders to avoid all news about Peterson. Some of the half dozen would-be jurors questioned by the judge Monday acknowledged they have been unable to completely avoid the television, radio and newspaper coverage of the case.
One man said that when he hears Peterson's name on the radio he switches it off or leaves the room. But the man said that just last week he saw Peterson's photograph splashed across the front page of a suburban Chicago newspaper.
One woman who was asked what she thinks she's heard about the case answered, "Something about a bathtub."
Vetting would-be jurors typically takes a few days, but extra time is sometimes required in high-profile cases to weed out those who come in with well-formed opinions. Opening statements at Peterson's trial in Joliet are slated for next Tuesday.
Jurors are likely to hear from a parade of pathologists who will dispute each other's conclusions about how the 40-year-old Savio died. They will hear about her death being ruled an accident, her body being exhumed after 23-year-old Stacy Peterson's disappearance and the autopsy after which her cause of death was changed from accidental to homicide — and the continued dispute over those findings.
There's apparently no physical evidence, so the hearsay is the heart of prosecutors' case.
Before jury selection began Monday, Will County Judge Edward Burmila refused prosecutors' request to give them blanket approval to admit eight key hearsay statements. Burmila said he will make a final ruling on the admissibility of each statement only as they come up at trial.
Neither Burmila nor the attorneys spoke in any detail about the substance of the eight statements.
At a 2010 hearing to determine what hearsay a jury could hear, dozens of witnesses testified that Savio told them she feared Peterson would kill her and make it look like an accident.
One question looming over the trial is how much Peterson's personality will influence the jury. Before his arrest, Peterson was often seen joking about a "Win A Date With Drew" contest, his missing wife's menstrual cycle and other topics that were widely seen as inappropriate.
Peterson's lead attorney, Joel Brodsky, has said the three years that Peterson has been in jail and largely out of the public eye might help him because the memories of his behavior have faded.
Peterson, jailed since his 2009 arrest, pleaded not guilty. His attorneys say Savio's death was an accident and that Stacy Peterson — 30 years younger than Drew Peterson — ran off with another man and is alive. Authorities have said they believe she is dead, although her body has never been found.