Some hearsay banned in Peterson trial

Drew Peterson's mug shot

July 26, 2011 8:32:56 PM PDT
In a legal victory for Drew Peterson, an Illinois Appeals Court ruling upholds the decision to limit the hearsay evidence that can be used in his case.

The former Bolingbrook police sergeant is charged with first-degree murder in the 2004 bathtub death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. He is also a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson.

Prosecutors in the Peterson case filed an appeal requesting more hearsay -- or second hand -- statements be allowed at his murder trial. But the 56-page appellate court decision indicates prosecutors did not file their appeal within the 30 day allowance, so key evidence -- 8 hearsay statements out of 14 -- they wanted to use against Drew Peterson will not be allowed.

"Although it is tempting to address the merits of the State's argument," justices wrote, "We must resist this temptation because we lack jurisdiction."

The panel of three judges wrote that the only way it could overturn the judge's decision was if it determined he abused his discretion. And it found that the judge's decision was reasonable.

Peterson's attorney, Joel Brodsky, calls it an outright victory. "I think it's not just winning on a technicality, I think it's winning flat-out," Brodsky said.

Hearsay is information gathered by one person from another person with which the first person had no direct experience. In the Peterson trial, it refers to statements allegedly made by Kathleen Savio and Stacy Peterson to friends.

Those statements are sealed, but they reportedly outline the fear the women felt from Peterson. Prosecutors say those statements would provide a motive for why Peterson allegedly killed Savio and Stacy's disappearance.

"I believe one was 'if I come up missing Drew killed me' was one, just like Stacy. So it was pretty incriminating what he did to himself," said Nick Savio, Kathleen Savio's brother. "You only get one chance to get him and this was our chance. Still five statements are in, but you want to have as much as you can going into the courtroom."

In a case without much physical evidence, the hearsay statements -- which included "a statement that Stacy allegedly made to her friend . . . in the fall of 2007 regarding her alleged encounter with the defendant the night Kathleen died" -- were considered key.

Prosecutors lobbied and received legislation, called "Drew's Law," to get the statements included in the case. "Drew's Law" permitted a crime victim's previous statements to be used in court if it could be shown that a defendant made the witnesses unavailable to testify.

"With this ruling today "Drew's Law" is dead, it's gone. It has no more validity in Illinois or anywhere else. . . If it ever had a little sparkle left, it's dead and buried now," Brodsky said. "We've been saying since day one: Other than hearsay, other than what somebody's ex-wife's family says that they said during a divorce, there is nothing to show Drew Peterson had any connection to Kathy Savio's death."

Republican candidate Dave Carlson, who is running against Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow, calls the deadline error a rookie mistake that can only help Peterson's chances of going free.

"I'm concerned, the people of Will County are concerned and we should keep asking this question: Why does this keep happening in Will County?" he said.

Glasgow released a statement saying he strongly disagrees with the majority ruling of the appellate court. He is considering filing an appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court. If he does, Peterson's attorney says he'll ask that his client be freed.

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