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Next up in Drew Peterson trial: Cops who called Savio death an accident

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: September 8, 2012 6:11AM

Two men who played crucial roles in investigating the scene of Kathleen Savio’s death — originally ruled an accident but now considered by authorities to be a homicide — are among the witnesses next expected to take the stand as Drew Peterson’s murder trial enters its second week.

Evidence technician Robert Deel and retired state police investigator Patrick Collins could be first up to testify when Will County Judge Edward Burmila takes the bench Tuesday. Collins testified in 2010 that police did not so much as interview Peterson as a suspect in his third wife’s death.

Collins testified he’d never worked a homicide case before he was called in to probe Savio’s death. He described himself as “naive” and said he relied heavily on guidance from Deel, who said it looked like Savio slipped in the tub and hit her head.

It wasn’t until 2007, after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, vanished, that authorities re-examined Savio’s death, exhumed her body and performed another autopsy. The second time around, authorities called her death a homicide.

Ronald C. Smith, a law professor at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, said prosecutors could be employing a “very dangerous strategy” by calling the two men to the stand. If they begin to testify they now believe Savio’s death is a homicide, defense lawyers can use records from 2004 to undermine their credibility.

“The defense is going to go after them on the previous reports and conclusions,” Smith said.

Defense attorneys maintain that two men reached the correct conclusion the first time around — that Savio’s death was an accident.

Savio’s sister, Anna Doman, testified Friday and offered the first shred of hearsay evidence against her former brother-in-law.

She told jurors Savio visited her weeks before her death and told her Peterson said he was going to kill her. She also said Savio made her promise to take care of her two boys.

That brought to an end the Peterson trial’s bumpy first week. The 58-year-old former Bolingbrook police sergeant’s defense team asked twice for a mistrial, and Burmila looked ready to oblige Thursday.

Prosecutors had prompted Savio neighbor Tom Pontarelli to tell jurors he found a .38-caliber bullet in his driveway even though they can’t prove Peterson put it there.

Burmila called it a “low blow” but eventually decided against declaring a mistrial, instead ordering the jury to ignore much of Pontarelli’s testimony.

Glasgow also sparked an earlier mistrial request minutes into opening statements when he mentioned an alleged plot by Peterson to pay a cable company co-worker $25,000 to have Savio killed. The judge barred that claim from the trial because prosecutors failed to warn defense attorneys they wanted to call the man as a witness.

Prosecutors still think jurors should hear the allegation, and they’re expected to make their case to Burmila this week to let it in. But defense attorney Joel Brodsky predicted Burmila would stand by his decision.

Glasgow’s team has been treading carefully since the second mistrial motion, especially when they approached the treacherous subject of Stacy Peterson.

The judge has said prosecutors can’t mention Stacy’s presumed death in front of the jury.

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