Illinois' murder trial of the century

Peterson Defense Witness Testimony May Have Backfired

Savio's divorce attorney dances around issue of Stacy Peterson's disappearance

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Harry Smith dances around issue of Stacy Peterson's disappearance.

    The fourth wife of accused murderer Drew Peterson spoke to an attorney in the days before she disappeared to get advice on how to extort money out of the defendant, that attorney testified Wednesday.

    In a move that many court observers say backfired, the defense team called Harry Smith to the stand. Smith was the divorce attorney who represented Peterson's third wife, Kathleen Savio.

    Peterson is fighting first-degree murder charges he killed Savio. Her death was initially ruled an accident but the case was re-opened when his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished in October 2007. Judge Edward Burmila has barred any mention of her disappearance during the trial.

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    Days before she dropped out of sight, Smith told jurors he received a phone call from Stacy Peterson.

    "She wanted to know if, in my opinion, the fact that he killed Kathy could be used against him," Smith testified Wednesday afternoon. "She didn't use the word leverage, but that certainly was the intimation."

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    Stacy Peterson's friend, Pam Bosco, called the testimony a "gift from the defense."

    "She was trying to get out what she knew about Kathleen's death and Drew killing her -- how Drew killed her that night," Bosco said.

    But the defense team team said the conversation between Stacy Peterson and the attorney pointed to just one thing: greed.

    "She had a motive to lie. She wanted a financial advantage in the divorce," said attorney Steve Greenberg. "That's why she did it, and the jury should know that."

    Calling Smith to the stand was a risky move for the defense. While his testimony suggested Stacy Peterson was mulling a possible shakedown attempt, it also emphasized that she seemed convinced her husband did kill Savio. And it raised the question in jurors' minds about just where Stacy Peterson is.

    Smith came close to broaching that issue when he testified Stacy Peterson never got around to hiring him. When defense attorney Joel Brodsky asked why, Smith stammered uncomfortably, apparently understanding the answer would be inadmissible. After a hastily called break, Brodsky withdrew the question.

    Another time, Smith said he told Stacy Peterson during the phone conversation that she should "be careful" -- an apparent reference to how Drew Peterson could do her harm. When Brodsky said Smith had previously testified that he told her to be careful because she could be arrested for attempted extortion, the witness denied it.

    "It's a crime to conceal a homicide. Clearly, that wasn't the thought on her mind," Smith later told reporters.

    NBC Chicago has reporters in the Will County Courthouse for the trial. During proceedings, follow along with our Drew Peterson Trial Live Blog or follow @bjlutz on Twitter.