Updated: September 24, 2012 7:55AM
Slowly but surely, in between the defense objections and the mistrial threats, the case against Drew Peterson keeps building — gradually and painstakingly — in a Will County courtroom.
As everyone has said from the start, it’s a circumstantial case, dependent in large part on hearsay testimony, but that shouldn’t be interpreted to mean it will lack potency with jurors.
For the most part, it’s the same information — minus Peterson’s often bizarre television and radio appearances involving the disappearance of fourth wife Stacy — that convinced much of the public long ago of Peterson’s guilt and that alone should tell you something about the impact it could have on a jury.
On Wednesday, prosecutors added another important piece to the puzzle they hope a jury will use to create the picture they want of Peterson as a calculating murderer who covered his tracks in the 2004 drowning death of third wife Kathleen Savio.
Jeffrey Pachter, a cable TV installer with whom Peterson once worked while moonlighting from his job as a Bolingbrook police officer, testified Peterson offered him $25,000 “if I could find someone to take care of his third wife”— just months before her death.
Naturally, Pachter did not interpret this to mean finding someone to look out for Savio while Peterson was out of town. He thought Peterson wanted her killed.
In fact, Pachter told the jury that Peterson even asked for a heads-up to the dirty deed in advance so he could establish his alibi.
One approach Peterson mentioned, Pachter said, would be to get in a fight at the Six Flags Great America amusement park to make sure there was a police report proving his whereabouts.
Pachter made it clear he never took Peterson seriously on the matter and didn’t follow up, but if that Six Flags crack doesn’t sound like the Drew Peterson we have come to know over the last five years, what does?
It is on such small items of detail that a jury is often convinced.
You may recall it was the mere mention of this potential “hit man” testimony that I and others have been listing among the blunders by Will County prosecutors that aroused the ire of Judge Edward Burmila.
Burmila went through the roof during opening statements when State’s Attorney James Glasgow first raised the prospect of Pachter testifying.
Defense lawyers argued they hadn’t been given proper notice he would be a prosecution witness and made their first request for a mistrial. Burmila refused to declare a mistrial, but barred any mention of the hit man while offering the first of many verbal rebukes to Glasgow’s team.
Prosecutors maintained all along they believed Pachter’s testimony would eventually be allowed, and this week Burmila reversed course. Perhaps there was less egg on the prosecution’s face than we previously thought.
The hit man testimony now goes onto the scale along with the forensic pathologists who say Savio’s death couldn’t have been caused by a fall in the bathtub where her body was found, the Savio sisters and friends who say she told them before her death that Peterson threatened to kill her and make it look like an accident and with the couple’s unresolved divorce case as the potential motive.
Let’s be clear: I’m not trying to predict the outcome of this trial. Being in and out of court sporadically as I have been during the trial, you don’t get the whole picture.
Convincing a jury of Peterson’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” is not the same as convincing the public. Happily for all of us, there’s something about receiving that instruction from a judge that helps 12 men and women shut out the superfluous influences such as the news media and focus on the serious business at hand.
When that day arrives for the Peterson jurors, they will no doubt be troubled by the obvious holes in the prosecution case, particularly the lack of any scientific or eyewitness evidence putting the defendant in Savio’s home at the time of her death.
But somebody’s going to be thinking about Peterson allegedly having discussed hiring someone to kill her — and riding the roller coasters while it was happening.