Peterson Trial Could Go Supreme

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Drew Peterson's case could be headed for the Illinois Supreme Court.

    After an appellate court agreed with a lower court ruling that a number of piece of hearsay evidence wouldn't be admissible in the murder trial of the former Bolingbrook police officer, Will County States attorney James Glasgo filed a petition with the state's high court. According to a release:

    The Will County State’s Attorney’s Office today filed a Petition for Leave to Appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court in People v. Drew Peterson. The petition was filed under seal to prevent potential jurors from hearing material facts and evidence in the case, thereby protecting the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

    The Will County State’s Attorney’s Office strongly disagrees with the Third District Appellate Court’s decision in July not to rule on the merits of its 2010 appeal in People v. Drew Peterson. As a result, the State’s Attorney’s Office is respectfully asking the Illinois Supreme Court to accept this appeal and rule on its merits. 

    The ruling by a state appellate court in July upheld a  decision to exclude eight of 14 pieces of hearsay — or second-hand — statements and  raised fresh questions about the viability of trying Peterson on charges he killed Kathleen Savio in 2004.

    Peterson was charged only after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007 and Savio's body was exhumed. Prosecutors have presented no physical evidence or eyewitnesses and have said the hearsay statements were vital.

    The former Bolingbrook police sergeant, in jail awaiting trial since 2009, saw that decision as a victory.

    Joseph Lopez said, "He's happy."

    Any hopes Peterson may harbor of altogether averting a trial in Savio's death may be well founded, some observers say.

    "It sounds like a lot of this was at the crux of their case," Chicago attorney Michael Helfand said about the statements excluded by the courts. "If they don't have anything more — like eye witnesses or good forensics, which they don't — then how can you not drop this case?"

    The legal saga surrounded the burly, mustachioed ex-cop has attracted national attention, even inspiring a TV movie — now in production — starring Rob Lowe as Peterson.

    Attorneys have declined to offer details about the excluded hearsay statements, citing a gag order.

    But a person familiar with the case previously said excluded by the lower court judge included one from Stacy Peterson's pastor, who said she told him she'd given Peterson a false alibi the weekend of Savio's death.

    That person said the pastor, Neil Schori, will still be allowed to testify about other conversations with Stacy Peterson. For example, Schori can testify Stacy Peterson told him of seeing her husband, dressed all in black, dumping his clothes and women's clothing that did not belong to Stacy into their washing machine the night before Savio's body was found in her bathtub, the source said.

    Stacy Peterson is presumed dead by authorities. Drew Peterson has never been charged in her disappearance, but authorities have said he is a suspect.

    The person also said the judge ruled one of Savio's co-workers couldn't testify. During a hearing last year on the hearsay testimony, Issam Karam said Savio told him about a night at her home when Peterson, armed with a knife, allegedly grabbed her throat and told her there was nothing she could do to protect herself from him.

    While not confirming the substance of the excluded statements, state attorneys have gone so far as to indicate in court filings that they'll be "unable to proceed to trial" if they're stopped from entering the hearsay into evidence.

    The defense may make that point in asking a judge for the trial to be canceled, Lopez said.

    The limit on hearsay statements isn't the only obstacle prosecutors would face at trial. Savio's death was originally ruled an accident, and prosecutors would have to persuade a jury to accept a conclusion years later that she was, in fact, murdered.

    The ruling this week was particularly frustrating to Savio's family, who had been trying to convince authorities since shortly after Savio's death that she did not simply drown accidentally.

    "Depending on what prosecutors have, they might be back to square one, which I hope not," Savio's niece, Melissa Marie Doman of Romeoville, said Tuesday.

    Helfand believes that's just where prosecutors are. Freeing Peterson would likely prompt public outcry, he added, "but you have to go by the facts, and these prosecutors don't seem to have the goods.

    "You can't just put someone on trial because you think they are a scum bag. If the evidence isn't reliable, you have to let it go."