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Could last-minute ruling delay Drew Peterson’s murder trial again?

Retired Bolingbrook Police Sgt. Drew Petersarrives Will County Courthouse Joliet May 8 2009 for arraignment charges first-degree murder death his

Retired Bolingbrook Police Sgt. Drew Peterson arrives at the Will County Courthouse in Joliet on May 8, 2009, for arraignment on charges of first-degree murder in the death of his former wife, Kathleen Savio. | M. Spencer Green~AP file photo

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Updated: August 20, 2012 11:00AM

A new battle that abruptly flared over long-disputed hearsay evidence is threatening to again stall Drew Peterson’s murder trial -- now scheduled to begin Monday.

Will County Judge Edward Burmila touched off the clash Wednesday, saying he still may bar from Peterson’s trial crucial secondhand statements that prosecutors contend tie the former Bolingbrook cop to the 2004 drowning death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

When Assistant State’s Attorney Colleen Griffin pressed the judge for a final ruling before jury selection begins, Burmila chastised prosecutors for raising the issue just three days before the trial. Then he ordered her to sit down.

“You don’t tell me when I’m going to rule,” Burmila said, leaving it unclear when he’ll decide whether some or all of nine disputed statements can be used as evidence against Peterson.

If Burmila rules Monday before the trial opens, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow could opt to immediately appeal the order, triggering a last-second delay in a trial originally scheduled to begin two years ago.

As Glasgow left the courthouse, he refused to rule out a last-ditch appeal.

“I’m not going to guess what the judge will do or not do,” Glasgow said. “At this point, we’re continuing our preparation and we’re ready to go.”

Prosecutors have argued an appellate court ruling earlier this year determined the statements purportedly made by Savio and others could be used as evidence.

Burmila, though, said a 2010 ruling by retired Judge Stephen White that the uncertain reliability of some of the statements still could keep them out of Peterson’s trial.

The judge didn’t say whether he would make a final ruling before jury selection begins Monday or when prosecutors attempt to introduce each of the disputed statements during the trial.

Defense attorneys praised the decision, contending the appellate court ruling didn’t settle the question of whether all of the hearsay evidence prepared by prosecutors should be allowed into the trial.

“The door is open to barring some of the hearsay,” said Steve Greenberg, an attorney on Peterson’s defense team, which has long dismissed any statements linking Peterson to Savio’s death as uncorroborated or concocted.

Peterson, now 58, was charged in 2009 with drowning the 40-year-old Savio in the bathtub of her Bolingbrook home during their bitter divorce.

Her death originally was ruled an accidental drowning, but the investigation was reopened in 2007 after Peterson’s fourth wife, 23-year-old Stacy, vanished from her home after she allegedly told her husband she wanted a divorce.

Peterson has never been charged in Stacy Peterson’s disappearance, and prosecutors have been barred from telling jurors in Savio’s case about her uncertain fate.

Prosecutors have acknowledged the hearsay evidence is critical to proving Peterson killed Savio, saying statements she made to other people before her death would allow her to speak from “beyond the grave.”

The evidence that still could be barred by Burmila includes Savio’s claims to her sister, a friend and a co-worker that Peterson threatened her with a knife in her home and warned he could make her murder look like an accident.

Another disputed statement purportedly was made by Stacy Peterson to a friend that she had been ordered by her husband to provide a phony alibi for him on the night Savio died.

A similar claim Stacy Peterson allegedly made to her minister is expected to be allowed as evidence.

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