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Appeals court must consider evidence against Drew Peterson

Drew Petersarrives Will County Courthouse Joliet May 2009.

Drew Peterson arrives at the Will County Courthouse in Joliet in May 2009.

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Updated: January 3, 2012 8:54AM

An Illinois Supreme Court ruling on disputed hearsay evidence is more likely to help prosecutors than aid ex-cop Drew Peterson when his murder trial begins, legal experts said Wednesday.

The high court ordered an appellate court to take another look at allowing more of the secondhand evidence to be presented when the former Bolingbrook police officer stands trial for the 2004 drowning death of third wife Kathleen Savio.

The Supreme Court already has ruled such evidence can be admitted even if its reliability is uncertain — so the decision sending the issue back to an appellate court is probably not good news for Peterson and his defense team, experts said.

“I’d be optimistic if I were a prosecutor on this case,” said Richard Kling, a professor at Chicago Kent College of Law.

Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow seemed to share that sentiment in a statement he released after the high court ruling..

“I am extraordinarily pleased by Wednesday’s Illinois Supreme Court order,” said Glasgow, who has contended hearsay evidence is critical in proving Peterson drowned Savio in her bathtub.

Peterson’s attorneys downplayed the ruling, saying they fear it simply could further stall a trial originally scheduled to begin in 2010.

“We’re disappointed in the delay, we’re not afraid of the merits of the case,” said defense attorney Joel Brodsky, who took a slap at prosecutors’ pre-trial appeals that have twice delayed Peterson’s trial.

“It seems like they’re terrified of a trial,” Brodsky said.

It’s not clear how quickly the appellate court could rule on the hearsay issue, but Glasgow in his statement said he still expects Peterson’s trial to begin in the spring.

Peterson, now 57, has remained jailed since his 2009 arrest on charges he killed the 40-year-old Savio during bitter divorce proceedings.

Peterson also remains a suspect in the still-unsolved disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, who vanished in October 2007 from the couple’s Bolingbrook home.

A 3rd District Illinois Appellate Court panel in July effectively limited the use of statements against Drew Peterson that purportedly were made by Savio before her death.

By a 2-1 vote, the panel upheld a ruling by Will County Judge Stephen White barring eight of 14 statements allegedly made by Savio and Stacy Peterson because they weren’t sufficiently reliable.

But the appellate court panel based its ruling on a timing issue, finding that Will County prosecutors missed a crucial 30-day deadline in appealing White’s original ruling.

Justices, however, didn’t directly address the reliability of the purported statements.

The Supreme Court ruling issued Wednesday directs the appellate panel to consider the “merits” of the case, which experts said would include whether such hearsay statements must be deemed reliable to be used as evidence.

But a June 2010 high court ruling in another murder case clearly established that reliability isn’t an issue in allowing such statements, Kling said.

In challenging the appellate ruling, Glasgow asked the Supreme Court to allow the eight banned hearsay statements to be used against Peterson.

That question is now back before the appellate court — but this time the Supreme Court is prodding the lower court to make a ruling.

“It puts the issue back on the appellate court so they take the heat on ruling what evidence comes in,” said Leonard Cavise, a law professor at DePaul University.

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