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Downtown Joliet girds for Peterson trial media horde

A medicrew preparesreport Drew Peterscase across street from Will County Courthouse July.  Joliet officials are preparing for large contingent

A media crew preparesa report on the Drew Peterson case across the street from Will County Courthouse in July. Joliet officials are preparing for a large contingent of media when jury selection starts Monday for Peterson's murder trial. | Joseph P. Meier

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Updated: August 20, 2012 11:43AM

JOLIET — In case you haven’t heard, Drew Peterson is going on trial next week for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

It is a local story that has steamrolled through the national media, gathering attention even while Peterson has been locked up in the Will County Jail for the past three years.

On Monday, the trial could begin and hordes of reporters, spectators and lawyers will set up camp in downtown Joliet.

The city has a plan for the television trucks. They cannot park at the meters around the courthouse. They can park in the Joliet Police Department’s parking lot on Washington Street at a cost of $250 per week.

“If traffic issues arise, we do have different people assigned to the downtown area that will address that as it happens,” Joliet police Cmdr. Rich Demick said.

The city had a test run during a 2010 hearing to determine what hearsay testimony would be allowed at the trial.

News trucks set up in the same parking lot — called the “satellite farm” by some city staff — and traffic flowed through the downtown as usual.

“All we did pretty much is (Joliet police) lost our parking spaces,” Demick said of the parking situation during the hearing in 2010. “Our guys had to park up on the hill by the river.”

The weekly parking pass also includes access to some city hall conference room space, restrooms and wireless Internet, said Ben Benson, the city’s marketing and communication director.

There will likely be about 12 news vehicles parking in the lot, along with a mobile studio set up by a court television station, Benson said of the expected media influx

Courtroom seating

While there was some outcry from news crews about the parking situation, there were louder protests over the courtroom seating arrangement for reporters.

Journalists covering the trial will be chosen by lottery every morning for 10 media seats available in the courtroom. All the other media members will sit in an overflow room and listen to an audio feed from the courtroom.

The media section was limited to preserve seats for Savio’s family, Peterson’s family, the attorneys and the public, said Kurt Sangmeister, courts administrator for the Will County courthouse.

“Everybody needs to understand that there are only so many seats in the courtroom,” Sangmeister said. “Everybody’s not going to be happy, to a different extent. There’s not much we can do about that.”

The court has received more than 120 requests for media credentials, Sangmeister said, adding that most news outlets are sending more than one person to cover the trial.

“We’re going to be ready,” he said. “We’ve done thousands of trials. Those are still going to go on. This one has gotten a little more media attention than others. Other than that, it’s going to be business as usual at the Will County courthouse.”

It won’t necessarily be business as usual for the restaurants and shops in the downtown area, most of which have been planning for the influx of potential patrons, creating express lunch menus and brainstorming ways to lure trial business.

The satellite farm alone likely will have upward of 50 inhabitants, Benson estimated, all of whom will need to eat, sleep and work.

Downtown restaurants learned during the hearsay hearing that they will see a bump in customer traffic, as well as a number of customers who need to grab quick lunches, and are planning accordingly.

“This is an opportunity to showcase Joliet on a national stage,” Benson said.

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