Drew Peterson Murder Trial: Defense team says hearsay testimony will be main grounds for appeal

September 7, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The day after the jury reached its guilty verdict, some of the jurors talked about their deliberations, saying hearsay testimony played a major role in their decision.

Defense attorneys say that hearsay testimony used at Peterson's trial will be their main grounds for an appeal.

Jury foreman Eduardo Saldana and three other jurors spoke at a news conference Friday afternoon. They discussed their decision-making process one day after convicting Peterson of first degree murder in the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Saldana said remarks Peterson's fourth wife Stacy made before her disappearance were crucial.

"The hearsay testimony from Stacy, that was the biggest part," Saldana said.

Saldana said testimony from Stacy Peterson's pastor Neil Schori was also important.

A piece of legislation that some call "Drew's law" was passed in 2008. It allows hearsay evidence in rare instances. At this trial, jurors heard the words of Kathleen Savio and Stacy Peterson, even though they could not testify.

After Drew Peterson's sentencing in November, his legal team will file a notice of appeal. That appeal will go to the 3rd District Appellate Court in Ottawa.

One of Peterson's attorneys said Thursday that there are world-class appellate lawyers just waiting to get their teeth into this case.

They can argue that prosecutors over-stepped their bounds. They could claim that Peterson's lawyers ineffectively represented him, or that the judge made errors.

But their strongest focus will be on the hearsay testimony that was critical to the jury's decision.

"In America, you're supposed to be able to confront your accusers, and that didn't happen in this case," said Drew Peterson attorney Joseph Lopez.

"We have a conviction based here on 100 percent hearsay evidence," said Peterson lawyer Joel Brodsky.

"This case is a travesty. The jury's verdict is a travesty," said DePaul College of Law Prof. Leonard Cavise.

Some members of the defense bar -- and certainly the Peterson legal team -- believe that hearsay evidence sank Peterson and is also his best grounds for winning an appeal. And, they argued throughout, that a new law -- born of the Peterson case -- and designed to allow certain hearsay won't survive a constitutional challenge.

Prosecutors strongly disagree.

"This is a 400-year old principle in common law -- especially this case -- that if you murder the witness to silence them, you extinguish your right to confront the witness," said Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow.

Further, the state appellate court has already rejected a number of legal challenges to the so-called Drew's law, and overturning a conviction is very much an uphill climb.

"I'm sure Mr. Peterson will take it as high as he can, but I don't think it's such an anomalous, unusual situation with the law," said IIT-Kent College of Law Prof. Richard Kling.

"We got good grounds for an appeal," said Brodsky. "We're gonna pursue it, and we'll either get a retrial or the appellate court will enter a finding of innocence."

But the odds of either of those things happening -- new trial or finding of innocence -- are quite slim, according to many defense attorneys.

Higher courts can overturn convictions, but it doesn't happen often, and some of the hearsay issues in this trial have already been scrubbed by the appellate court.

Still, Peterson's lawyers argue passionately that there are constitutional issues of great consequence here, and they see it going to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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