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Judge denies directed verdict for Peterson; defense set to begin

Drew Peterson

Drew Peterson

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Updated: September 28, 2012 6:12AM

A Will County judge has denied Drew Peterson’s request for a not guilty verdict without him having to put on a defense.

Judge Edward Burmila found that a reasonable finder of fact could return a guilty verdict in the case. Defense requests for directed verdicts in criminal cases are typically rejected by judges, who are relucant to take away such decision from juries.

Earlier in the day, the prosecution rested its case against Peterson after both sides argued over stipulations that will go to the jury.

When attorneys begin his defense, Peterson likely will call police officers, doctors and maybe even a divorce lawyer to testify on his behalf when he opens his defense against murder charges this week.

Don’t look for the former Bolingbrook police sergeant to take the stand to personally deny he had anything to do with the 2004 drowning death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Hs lawyers said it won’t take long for them to wrap up his defense — probably only about two or three days.

His Will County trial already has lasted four weeks — longer than what jurors were warned to expect.

Peterson is as anxious as his seven-man, five-woman jury to quickly complete the trial, his attorneys said.

“We want to finish this case,” attorney Joe Lopez said. “We’re concerned that the jury was told this case was going to be two or three weeks. I’m sure they’re really frustrated.”

A key component of Peterson’s defense is expected to be medical testimony regarding how the 40-year-old Savio drowned in her bathtub.

Two pathologists earlier testified for prosecutors that Savio’s death was a murder, even though it initially was labeled an accident. Her body was exhumed and re-autopsied in November 2007 after the still-unsolved disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy.

Peterson’s defense team expects to call at least one medical pathologist — and possibly more — to dispute that testimony.

“Certainly there will one, and probably two — and maybe three,” attorney Joel Brodsky said, but then added: “Numbers don’t matter; it’s quality of testimony.”

One medical expert likely will be Dr. Vincent DiMaio, who testified at record producer Phil Spector’s murder trial in 2007 that shooting victim Lana Clarkson shot herself. Spector ultimately was convicted of murdering Clarkson.

Several police officers will be called, defense attorneys said, to rebut claims by prosecution witnesses that key details they purportedly gave to investigators weren’t recorded in reports and other documents.

“I’m sure we’ll hear from these officers,” Lopez said.

Two Illinois State Police investigators, however, already have testified for prosecutors that their initial reports about Savio’s death contained inaccuracies. One report didn’t mention that Peterson as a professional courtesy was allowed to be present when Stacy Peterson was questioned about Savio’s death, though both investigators said he was there.

An FBI agent likely will be brought to the stand to dispute details of testimony offered Bolingbrook Police Lt. James Coughlin that in February 2004 he encountered a clearly irritated Peterson, who allegedly complained his life would be “easier” if Savio were dead.

Defense attorneys also may try to question Savio’s former divorce attorney Harry Smith, who had been expected to testify for prosecutors about alleged threats Peterson made against Savio.

Smith ultimately didn’t testify as prosecutors opted instead to submit a written statement Savio made about the alleged threats.

It’s not clear what Smith would be allowed to testify about in his dealings with Savio because of his attorney-client privilege.

Perhaps the most critical issue is whether Peterson himself will testify — and his attorneys didn’t want to talk about that question.

“It’s his decision, it’s not our decision,” Lopez said last week. “We can’t talk about it right now.”

Legal experts not involved in the case have said repeatedly Peterson would be taking a huge risk taking the stand because the often-abrasive ex-cop risks angering jurors.

“If you have a defendant like him with an offensive personality, I just think it’s a mistake,” Telander said. “I think you can only hurt your case.”

Though the decision about taking the witness stand ultimately is up to Peterson, experts believe his own lawyers will try hard — extremely hard — to discourage him from testifying.

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