A critical hearing in the Drew Peterson murder case puts the former Bolingbrook Police sergeant back in the spotlight Wednesday before the 3rd District Appellate Court in Ottawa.
He will not be there, but in an unusual move television cameras will be, as the court has granted approval for a pool camera to record the proceedings.
At stake, the future of the murder case that has kept Peterson in the Will County jail since May of 2009. That's when Peterson was arrested and charged with the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. She was found dead in a dry bathtub in 2004 during a bitter divorce from Peterson. Her death was originally ruled an accident, but after Peterson's fourth wife Stacy disappeared in the fall of 2007 prosecutors reexamined Savio's body and her death was reclassified a homicide.
In February 2010 prosecutors began presenting weeks of testimony in hearing to determine what hearsay testimony would be allowed at trial. Savio's sisters and others testified that she had told them that Peterson threatened to kill her. After that hearing Judge Stephen White ruled that some of the testimony would be allowed, but others were not reliable enough to be used against Peterson.
The use of hearsay became possible after the the Illinois legislature passed a law in 2008 a law, dubbed "Drew's Law, that said hearsay evidence can be admitted at trial when there is proof that a witness was murdered to keep that person from testifying.
Defense attorneys contend that law is not valid and will argue on Wednesday that none of the hearsay testimony should be allowed during Peterson's trial. That would, according to Peterson's attorneys and other outside legal observers, gut the prosecution's case.
"The Supreme Court has said that a victim's testimony is never admissible in a murder trial unless it's a dying declaration and the statute that was passed in this case was an exception to that particular rule," said Joseph Lopez, one of Peterson's attorneys. "The statute's over-broad and it's an attempt to do an end run around the Supreme Court and it was passed specifically to get into situations like this where you have multiple levels of hearsay."
The Will County State's Attorney's office declined to be interviewed for this story, but their contention has been that under another case, decided by the Illinois Supreme Court, most if not all of the hearsay evidence should be allowed at trial.
"Can't predict the outcome, but I do think you have to have some corroboration for these statement before they're entered into evidence. There's no way to have a blanket, all come, all statements by someone who's not available, come into evidence because you can misinterpret statements that are done, obviously you can't cross examine," said Harold Krent, the Dean of the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
The three judge appellate panel will hear oral arguments on Wednesday and then issue a ruling at a later date. Regardless of the outcome, the losing side is expected to appeal to the state's highest court, and from there it could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Peterson remains in the Will County jail.