An attorney for former suburban Chicago police officer Drew Peterson on Wednesday railed against letting lawyers use statements from an estranged wife at Peterson's upcoming trial on charges he murdered his third wife.
The government wants to admit 13 so-called hearsay statements at Peterson's trial for the 2004 murder of Kathleen Savio, who was found dead in a dry bathtub in 2004. Peterson also remains a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson.
Sometimes slicing his hand through the air before a three-judge panel of an Illinois appellate court, defense attorney Steven Greenberg cited alleged statements by Savio -- then in the midst of a divorce from Peterson -- that if she was ever found dead, Drew Peterson killed her. If the government prevails, Savio would have a chance to effectively testify from the grave.
"How many people getting a divorce say, 'If something happens to me, it's the spouse who probably did it," said Greenberg. "And now they're letting that in."
Peterson, 57, remains in jail on $20 million bail and did not attend the hearing at Third District Appellate Court in suburban Ottawa. The three-judge panel was expected to take at several weeks to hand down a ruling.
Just as Peterson's trial looked set to begin last year, it was delayed when prosecutors chose to appeal a lower court's decision to admit only a portion of the hearsay evidence. If the government wins their bid to allow the statements into court, Savio's words would be admissible under an Illinois law passed amid a media frenzy when Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared.
The law, dubbed "Drew's law" by some, was drawn up by Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow, who is overseeing Peterson's prosecution. It allows a judge to admit hearsay in first-degree murder cases if prosecutors can prove a defendant killed a witness to prevent the witness' testimony.
Besides Savio's statements, it isn't clear what other evidence would be admitted. The lower court sealed its ruling on the Peterson hearsay evidence last year and the appellate court also ordered detailed written briefs from both sides to remain sealed. So, just what hearsay evidence was and wasn't admitted isn't clear.
At a hearing to consider the available hearsay evidence prior to the lower court's ruling last year, a former co-worker of Savio said Savio told her that Peterson sneaked into her home one night, held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her.
Other possible evidence includes letters of protection in which Savio said Drew Peterson would kill her to shut her up and her sister's testimony to a coroner's jury that Savio told her family it would be no accident if she died.
Peterson's attorneys have earlier challenged the very constitutionality of admitting such evidence, arguing that the Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to confront his accusers -- something they can't do with an absent witness.
If prosecutors can't use the law to let Savio tell jurors why Peterson wanted her dead, they may have to rely on sparse physical evidence -- much of it gathered during an initial investigation prosecutors themselves have discredited.
If there ever was a fingerprint, a strand of hair or a speck of blood, they're gone. A detective who led the 2004 investigation of Savio's death all but acknowledged at the hearsay hearing that he conducted a shoddy investigation.
Wednesday's arguments before the court were televised live, a first for appellate arguments in Illinois. Trial-level courts in the state ban cameras. The Illinois Supreme Court does permit camera and it posts arguments online; for several years, appellate courts have posted audio of arguments. But until Wednesday, neither had broadcast arguments live.
Transparency advocates have called for more live coverage of Illinois courts. At Wednesday's hearing, media outlets shared a video feed from a single camera in the back of the courtroom following a request by Chicago's WGN-TV.