Judge accuses state of 'low blow' in Drew Peterson murder trial

August 1, 2012 (JOLIET, Ill.)

Accusing the prosecution of "intentionally bringing before the jury evidence the court had excluded," defense attorneys for Drew Peterson asked for a mistrial with prejudice on Wednesday. Judge Burmila did not rule on the mistrial, but said he would like to strike all testimony from Thomas Pontarelli. However, he wants the defense to decide if that would hurt their case during cross-examination.

At issue: Pontarelli, Peterson's former neighbor, testified Wednesday that he found a bullet on his driveway after he helped Kathleen Savio change her locks. He implied Peterson put it there as a threat because he didn't want Pontarelli to help Savio after she and Peterson split up.

Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, is accused of killing Savio, his third wife, in 2004.

Judge Edward Burmila dismissed the jury after Pontarelli's testimony about the bullet. He blasted prosecutors for bringing up information that could make the former police officer look bad in the eyes of the jury, calling it a "low blow."

The state responded that it had not intended to "poison" the jury but wanted to let Pontarelli share his "true feelings" about Peterson. They admitted they had no proof that Peterson had left the bullet, but argued against a mistrial, denying repetitive errors. The judge appeared close to declaring a mistrial Tuesday after a prosecutor began to discuss an allegation that Peterson once tried to hire a hit-man.

After a recess and closed talks with the prosecution and defense, Judge Burmila said he would not issue a ruling on the mistrial- but he was considering striking all of Pontarelli's testimony. However, he said he first wants the defense to determine if its case would be hurt upon cross-examination without that testimony. The defense asked for time to consider and around 2:15 p.m., the judge called it a day and court was adjourned until 9 a.m. Thursday.

"We don't know if we will have a decision. We have to do research and figure out what to do," Peterson attorney Joel Brodsky said.

"It's a complicated case," prosecutors said as they left the Joliet courthouse. "We'll be ready tomorrow."

Peterson's lawyers spent Wednesday evening reviewing case law they will present first thing Thursday.

"You've got two serious motions for mistrial in two days. That's got to be a world record. So we're going to go and figure out what to do," said Brodsky.

A mistrial, experts say, is a longshot. Burmila indicated he was troubled by the prosecution's tactics, dismissing jurors and blasting the prosecutors.

"What is the purpose of you trying to tell the jurors that this man put a bullet on the driveway?" the judge asked. "This is completely troubling... it makes no sense whatsoever."

"The judge will make the final decision and we're confident that we'll be resuming trial tomorrow," said Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow.

"You're always going to have defense crying mistrial. That's like the primary defense right there is mistrial," said Pam Bosco, Stacy Peterson's family's spokesman. "Of course with prejudice, they want this tossed out."

Jury consultant Alan Tuerkheimer says two days in, those sitting in judgment of Drew Peterson may very well be confused.

"There's a lot of in and out - jurors are in the courtroom, they're out, and so they're wondering what's going and then there are these hearsay statements that are pretty peculiar," said Tuerkheimer.

The options open to the judge tomorrow: strike the statements made about the bullet; tell jurors to ignore all of the neighbor's testimony; declare a mistrial, in which case drew Peterson might stay locked up and the trial begins again; or, in theory, dismiss the case altogether, making Peterson a free man.

Neighbor talks of finding Savio's body

Pontarelli was the first witness called for the prosecution Wednesday, the second day of testimony in the case. He and his wife, Mary, discovered Savio's body in dry bathtub in a fetal position with bruises and blood coming from her head. He also said the bathtub was clean.

Pontarelli said Peterson was in Savio's home when her body was found and he followed them into the bathroom to check for a pulse. Moments later, Pontarelli said Peterson called someone and said "just found [his] wife dead and people will think [he] did it."

Prosecutors say Peterson killed Savio and staged a household accident in an attempt to keep her from collecting a portion of his pension and other assets. The death was initially labeled an accident -- until the case was reopened after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished in 2007. A second autopsy showed Kathleen Savio's death was a homicide.

Peterson is also a suspect in Stacy's disappearance. He denies involvement in either case.

Outside the court house in Joliet, Peterson's attorneys told reporters their client remained relaxed and was pleased with how the trial was going so far. They also reiterated their main defense that Savio's death was just an accident.

"There is no sign that it was anything but an accident. There's no sign of a struggle at all, and that's why I went into how Kathy was well known among everybody that knows her as a real fighter, a person with a lot of spirit, somebody who will never take no for an answer, who always wants to get the last word and always fights for everything. If she was being attacked and someone was trying to kill her, there would be a real sign of a struggle," Peterson defense Attorney Joel Brodsky said.

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