Court allows hearsay evidence against Drew Peterson
BY DAN ROZEK Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org April 12, 2012 2:42PM
Updated: May 14, 2012 8:17AM
Dealing a crucial setback to Drew Peterson, an Illinois appellate court has ruled prosecutors can present additional hearsay evidence implicating the former Bolingbrook cop in the drowning death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
The new ruling released Thursday likely clears the way for eight more secondhand statements — including some purportedly made by Savio before her 2004 death — to be used against Peterson by Will County prosecutors when he stands trial on murder charges.
“It’s a real big win for prosecutors,” said Richard Kling, a professor at Chicago Kent College of Law.
The 3-0 ruling by a 3rd District Appellate Court panel also signals Peterson should stand trial later this year on charges he drowned the 40-year-old Savio in her bathtub during bitter divorce proceedings.
Peterson, now 58, has remained jailed since his May 2009 arrest. He remains a suspect in the still-unsolved disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, who vanished in October 2007 from the family’s Bolingbrook home.
The disputed hearsay evidence includes statements purportedly made to other people by Savio and by Stacy Peterson that prosecutors contend tie Drew Peterson to Savio’s death. At least some of the purported statements are explosive, including claims Stacy Peterson made to a friend and to her minister that Drew Peterson coaxed her to provide an alibi for him on the night Savio drowned.
Peterson’s attorneys downplayed the ruling, saying they still expect to challenge the statements in Will County court before his trial begins — including arguing they are too prejudicial to allow as evidence.
“I’d be very surprised if any of them get in,” defense attorney Joel Brodsky said. “There are just a great number of reasons this evidence shouldn’t come in.”
Attorney Steven Greenberg added: “All the statements are hogwash made by Johnny-come-lately media wannabes.”
Legal experts said defense attorneys at this stage face an uphill battle trying to keep the statements from being used against Peterson.
“The odds are they’re going to get in,” predicted Leonard Cavise, a DePaul University law professor.
A Will County judge in 2010 had agreed six of the disputed hearsay statements were admissible as evidence, but blocked eight other statements, ruling their reliability was too suspect.
The appellate court first upheld that decision, but prosecutors asked the Illinois Supreme Court to intervene. The Supreme Court sent the matter back to the appellate court, which reversed itself and ruled Thursday the statements couldn’t be barred as evidence over questions of their reliability.
“Thus, we also hold that the eight excluded statements are admissible,” the appellate court panel wrote in its opinion.
The ruling cheered Stacy Peterson’s relatives, who still hope to see charges filed against Peterson in her disappearance.
“It’s great news,” said Pam Bosco, a spokeswoman for Stacy’s family. “This testimony is valuable and we’re happy it’s going to be admitted to the trial.”