Judge: Savio Friend “Facially Unreliable”

The judge overseeing former police officer Drew Peterson's murder trial on Friday barred important hearsay testimony meant to undercut the former suburban Chicago police officer's alibi in the death of his third wife.

It was the first time during the trial prosecutors have sought to enter statements from the Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, whose 2007 disappearance led authorities to reopen the investigation into the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

A family spokesman for Stacy Peterson's family said she was upset Stacy's words could not be heard by jurors Friday. The judge has said prosecutors can't mention Stacy Peterson, then 23, went missing and that authorities presume she is dead.

"The jurors hear Stacy, Stacy, Stacy," said Pam Bosco. "But Stacy what? They should be told what happened to her."

The witness who prosecutors hoped would convey Stacy Peterson's words was her friend Scott Rossetto. He testified at a 2010 hearing that Stacy Peterson told him days before she vanished that Drew Peterson came in late at night around when Savio died and said, "If anybody ever asks, I was home."

That testimony might have helped prosecutors establish that Drew Peterson, now 58, acted suspiciously around the time of Savio's death and could have been a key piece of their circumstantial case.

Peterson is a suspect in Stacy Peterson's disappearance, although he has never been charged in her case. The defense argues that Stacy Peterson ran off with another man and is alive.

The former Bolingbrook police sergeant has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Savio, whose body was found in a dry bathtub, her hair soaked in blood and a gash on the back of her head. If convicted, he would face a maximum 60-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors have no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio's death, so they have had to rely heavily on hearsay, or statements not based on the direct knowledge of a witness. Such statements usually are not admissible in court, but Illinois passed a law in the wake of the Peterson case that allows them in certain circumstances.

The judge has allowed most of the hearsay prosecutors requested, including testimony about how Peterson allegedly told Savio he could kill her and make her death look accidental.

Judge Edward Burmila had initially said Friday that Rossetto could testify. But minutes after Rossetto took the stand and said he had met Stacy Peterson on Oct. 25, 2007, the defense complained that prosecutors have given them different dates for that meeting.

"The date is moving all over the place. ... It seems to be shifting like the sands," Burmila said before deeming Rossetto's testimony unreliable.

At one point, lead prosecutor James Glasgow blamed a 102-degree fever he had the night before for an imprecise email the prosecution sent to defense attorneys about Rossetto.

The prosecution has been plagued by missteps during the trial. Earlier this week, Glasgow blamed another error on his feeling "woozy" while questioning a forensic pathologist whose testimony went into territory the judge had previously barred.

But not everything went Peterson's way Friday.

Burmila opened the door to allowing testimony that Peterson once offered someone $25,000 to hire a hit man to kill Savio, though prosecutors failed to include that evidence on the appropriate pretrial documents. He'll make a final ruling later.

Defense attorney Steven Greenberg complained that the oversight was another example of an error by prosecutors, one that they shouldn't be allowed to correct three weeks into the trial.

"I don't think oops qualifies as a good (reason)," he told the judge.

Other testimony Friday came from a physician who treated Savio. Dr. Gene Neri said a condition Savio had, called "cervical vertigo," would have made her feel unsteady but would not have caused her to fall. The testimony was important because the defense maintains that Savio died in an accidental fall in her bathtub and that her condition may have contributed to her losing her balance.

Neri told jurors that precisely because cervical vertigo makes people feel unsteady those with the condition tend to be more careful and so fall less than those without it.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Darryl Goldberg, Neri conceded he last saw Savio in 2002, two years before her death, and couldn't have known how she was faring medically in the weeks and months before her death.

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.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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