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Drew Peterson trial gets heated as prosecutor, judge spar

FILE - In this May 7 2009 file booking phoprovided by Will County Sheriff's office Joliet Ill. former Bolingbrook Ill.

FILE - In this May 7, 2009 file booking photo provided by the Will County Sheriff's office in Joliet, Ill., former Bolingbrook, Ill., police officer Drew Peterson is shown. Peterson is charged with first-degree murder in the 2004 drowning death of his former wife Kathleen Savio. Opening statements in his trial are scheduled to begin Tuesday, July 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Will County Sheriff's Office, File)

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Updated: October 11, 2012 6:09PM

Kristin Anderson broke down only once — just as she was about to tell Drew Peterson’s jury about a conversation she had with her friend, Kathleen Savio.

She rushed out of the courtroom, hands over her face, and collected herself. Composed, she returned to the courtroom, where Peterson, the judge and the prosecutors waited for her to tell the story of what happened when she spent two months living with Peterson’s third wife in her Bolingbrook home in 2003.

“[Savio] told me that prior to us moving there, Drew had broken into her house dressed in a SWAT uniform and held her at knife-point and said, ‘I could kill you and make it look like an accident,’” Anderson said.

With that, Anderson delivered a crucial blow for prosecutors trying to prove Peterson murdered his third wife. Savio was found dead in her bathtub March 1, 2004. Peterson’s lawyers, who say Savio died in an accident, lost a big battle Wednesday to keep Anderson’s testimony out of the trial.

But Anderson wasn’t done recalling her conversation with Savio.

“She showed me a knife that she kept in between her mattresses for protection,” Anderson added.

The suburban school teacher with three kids sniffled through her testimony. But she held up even when Peterson defense attorney Joseph Lopez — nicknamed “The Shark” and known for defending Chicago mobsters — went on the attack and asked her why she didn’t move out if Peterson was so threatening. Anderson and her family rented Savio’s basement that year while they built a new house.

“You stayed in that house and put your family in harm’s way?” Lopez said.

“No sir,” Anderson said. “I don’t believe I did put my family in harm’s way.”

Anderson said she called the Illinois State Police three times after Savio’s dead body turned up in her dry bathtub. She said it wasn’t until 2007 — when Peterson’s fourth wife Stacy went missing — that police reached out to her. Lopez, though, asked her if she felt guilty for not contacting authorities before Savio’s death, for moving out and for leaving Savio behind.

“No sir,” Anderson answered calmly.

“Because your life is more important than hers?” Lopez said, drawing a loud groan from the courtroom gallery and a quick objection from Glasgow.

At another point in his questioning, Lopez paused briefly to turn back and wink at a solemn-looking Peterson. The former Bolingbrook cop’s serious expression didn’t change. His attorneys acknowledged later he was unhappy Judge Edward Burmila let the testimony into the trial, though.

“He’s upset like any other defendant would be,” Lopez said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We have to deal with what we have.”

Lopez said the judge’s ruling was no big deal. But Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow called it historic.

“This was a real crossroads,” Glasgow said.

Glasgow caught another break earlier in the day. Burmila ruled that prosecutors broke some evidence disclosure rules. But the judge concluded that was not enough to bar the Tuesday testimony of a Bolingbrook police officer who said Peterson made a comment about how his life would be easier if Savio were dead.

Jurors on Wednesday also heard retired Illinois State Police investigator Patrick Collins say Drew Peterson sat in on his interview of Stacy Peterson during the investigation of Savio’s death that originally concluded Savio died in an accident. He said Drew Peterson even helped her answer a question.

Glasgow also fought hard for the ruling that let Anderson testify. Burmila seemed poised to block her testimony at one point. He asked Assistant State’s Attorney Colleen Griffin to tell him, on the record, if former Judge Stephen White made a mistake when he declared several disputed hearsay statements unreliable.

“I’m telling the court that it doesn’t matter,” Griffin said.

Soon Glasgow stood up. His voice barely below a shout, he told Burmila the ruling he was about to make was critical.

“There are no rulings that are not critical,” Burmila said.

“Obviously,” Glasgow said, “this one affects a lot more issues or evidence in the case.”

The judge didn’t seemed pleased with either prosecutor. He accused them of “dancing around” the legal issues that concerned him, and he said Glasgow’s volume wouldn’t sway his ruling. Ultimately, though, he took their side and said he wasn’t bound by the retired judge’s 2010 decision.

That didn’t stop defense attorneys from objecting repeatedly — and futilely — while Anderson testified. And later Lopez said defense attorneys will keep challenging the disputed hearsay statements as they come up in a trial Glasgow described Wednesday as a “marathon, not a sprint.”

“It’s going to be one-by-one,” Lopez said. “We’ll have to see.”

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