Drew Peterson hearing broadcast live

February 17, 2011 4:23:42 AM PST
Cameras got a rare peek into the workings of the Illinois justice system Wednesday as a hearing in the Drew Peterson murder case was televised.

Wednesday's television coverage of the Peterson hearing gives a glimpse into one of the Chicago area's high-profile criminal cases.

The Illinois Appellate Court heard oral arguments on evidence in the Peterson murder case. It marks the first time an appellate court hearing was broadcast live on TV. State courts, including the one that will eventually host Peterson's murder trial, don't allow cameras in the courtroom.

Peterson is accused of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio. He did not attend Wednesday's hearing. The court is trying to decide if hearsay testimony can be used against Peterson in his trial.

Prosecutors seemingly don't have much in the way of physical evidence, so they had hoped to use 11 statements that they say show Kathleen Savio feared her ex-husband Drew Peterson would kill her.

A lower court said no to the hearsay evidence, so Will County prosecutors Wednesday brought their case to an appellate court.

Drew Peterson's name and murder charge are on the case, but the arguments Wednesday afternoon before an Illinois Appellate Court were all about the admission of hearsay evidence, specifically, statements made by Peterson's late wife Kathleen Savio and missing wife Stacey Peterson.

"He has not forfeited his right to confront her in the murder case, because that requires the judge to find that he is likely guilty," said Peterson attorney Steve Greenberg.

"The issue would go to a defendant's motive or intent, and this is not a legal malpractice case," said Justice Robert Carter, Illinois 3rd District Appellate Court. "So, arguably, what the defendant knew or knew about the circumstances of a future trial might be very relevant but that's not what she is testifying."

Will County prosecutors wrote, proposed and passed a state law specifically for this case. It would allow victims to essentially testify from the grave by allowing a jury to hear what they told friends and relatives before they died.

"She didn't want to die," said Sue Doman, Kathleen Savio's sister. "She knew if something were to happen it wouldn't be an accident. It would be portrayed as an accident. Take care of my children."

"She says, if anything happened to me, Drew did it. That's different. How many spouses say, 'If something happened to me, he did it?' " said Greenberg. "How many spouses are murdered?" said one justice.

Prosecutors may be facing an uphill fight. During the hearing, one justice repeatedly pointed out that their appeal was filed after a deadline had passed. Another told Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow his appeal may be premature.

"Because these are interlocutory orders, you can argue the admissibility of the evidence, no matter what we do, up until and through the trial, until the judge says 'I'm nothing going to hear anymore of it,' " said Justice Daniel Schmidt, Illinois 3rd District Appellate Court.

"The appellate court was very informed on the facts and law in this case, and the debate was spirited, and we look forward to their decision," Glasgow said.

"I think that it's a slippery slope where you're gonna have a lot of people claiming 'Joe told me this' and therefore it must be true," said Greenberg. "It's a dangerous precedent."

Illinois Appellate Court justices indicated that they would rule "with great dispatch," although that could mean several weeks, if not a few months.

Meanwhile, Drew Peterson remains locked up in isolation, where he has been for the last 21 months.

"He's being held because the state knows if he goes out on bond he's going to get on every major TV network and tell how he's been treated in this case," said Joseph Lopez, Peterson attorney.