Peterson Hearsay Hearing to Test Legal Limits

First test of 2009 law

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Friends of Stacy Peterson say Drew Peterson and one of his children cut down ribbons that had been hung throughout their neighborhood to honor Stacy and Peterson's murdered third wife.

    During the run up to his arrest last summer Drew Peterson was known for testing the limits of authority, challenging cops to arrest him.

    Today the legal system will test its limits when his landmark hearing begins, and the woman he is accused of murdering, his third wife Kathleen Savio, will get a chance to speak from the grave.

    "He wants me dead, and if he has to, he will burn the house down just to shut me up," Savio wrote before her death. Prosecutors want to use statements like this and other witness statements under a controversial hearsay law to help convict Peterson of her death.

    The hearing will be the first to use a newly implemented state law that allows a judge to admit hearsay evidence — testimony from witnesses who recount what they heard from others — in first-degree murder.

    Peterson's attorneys have made it clear that they will attack the credibility of at least some of the witnesses.

    "All it is, is rumor, innuendo and gossip," defense attorney Joel Brodsky said after a recent hearing concerning information contained in the 15 statements. "People had ulterior motives for saying what they said or are out-and-out unreliable people."

    "Everyone in America should be worried not just Drew Peterson," Brodsky said.

    The Illinois Legislature passed the law after authorities named Peterson a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, then exhumed the body of Savio, his third wife, and reopened the investigation into her 2004 death.

    Though the bill's sponsors were careful never to link the law publicly to Peterson, it has been referred to as "Drew's Law," and his attorneys have long suggested it was passed to put Peterson behind bars.

    During the hearing, which is expected to last three weeks, prosecutors will present to Will County Judge Stephen White about 60 witnesses to testify about 15 hearsay statements. White will then decide if the jury can hear any or all of those statements when Peterson stands trial. Peterson has pleaded not guilty to murdering Savio, whose body was found in a dry tub. A trial date hasn't been set.

    Savio’s death initially was ruled an accidental drowning.

    But then Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, went missing and officials expected foul play. Peterson has not been charged in Stacy Peterson's disappearance, but the suspicion was enough to lead investigators to perform another autopsy on Savio and determine that she was murdered.

    Among the more intriguing possible witnesses are members of the clergy at a Bolingbrook church attended by Stacy Peterson. In the days after her disappearance, there were media reports that she had told a clergyman a couple months earlier that Drew Peterson had confessed to her that he killed Savio and made it look like an accident.