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Peterson judge won't budge in barred hearsay statements
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Drew Peterson

 

Will County Circuit Judge Stephen White

 

Kathleen Savio

 

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Stacy Peterson

 

Anonymous

Eric Hanson

 

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Published: 7/6/2010 6:38 PM | Updated: 7/6/2010 11:11 PM

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A Will County judge presiding over the Drew Peterson case refused Tuesday an eleventh-hour prosecution request to allow certain hearsay statements he had barred in the upcoming murder trial.

State's Attorney James Glasgow asked Circuit Judge Stephen White to reconsider his earlier ruling barring the majority of more than a dozen hearsay statements in light of a recent Illinois Supreme Court decision that upheld the conviction of a Naperville man who killed four members of his family in 2005.

In that case, Eric Hanson argued a DuPage County judge erred in allowing testimony from his oldest sister, Jennifer Williams. She testified their slain sibling, Kate, told her six weeks before being fatally bludgeoned that Eric threatened to kill her if she exposed his theft of more than $80,000 from their parents.

In their unanimous June 24 decision, justices rejected Hanson's argument that the hearsay statement is not reliable enough to be allowed under a long-standing common law doctrine that says a criminal defendant forfeits the right to confront the accuser in court if that witness is unavailable due to the defendant's wrongdoing.

Glasgow also pioneered a recent state law regarding hearsay evidence in murder cases.

He cited the Hanson decision in asking White to reconsider during a 30-minute closed-door hearing Friday.

But in a one-sentence written ruling, Judge White refused to budge Tuesday. If Glasgow appeals to a higher court, Thursday's jury selection would be delayed.

Prosecutors have declined to make their intentions public, but DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett confirmed the two top prosecutors strategized during a phone call Tuesday. Also Tuesday, defense attorney Steven Greenberg sought to have jury selection pushed back until July 12, after his ongoing federal mortgage fraud trial ends.

Peterson, a 56-year-old former Bolingbrook police sergeant, is charged with the murder of Kathleen Savio in the couple's Bolingbrook home in 2004.

Her death was initially ruled an accidental bathtub drowning, but authorities reclassified it a homicide after exhuming her body in late 2007, just weeks after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, 23, vanished.

White's hearsay decision is sealed from public inspection until after the trial starts. The Daily Herald learned, however, that White barred the majority of testimony prosecutors presented earlier this year during a lengthy reliability hearing.

For example, White barred Stacy's pastor, Neil Schori, from testifying that she admitted providing Drew Peterson with a false alibi the weekend Savio died. Schori still will be allowed to take the stand, but his testimony will be limited.

The judge also barred Stacy's similar confession to friend Scott Rossetto. White did, however, allow Savio's Nov. 14, 2002, letter to an assistant Will County state's attorney outlining prior allegations against Peterson of physical abuse.

Peterson maintains his innocence. He has never been charged with any wrongdoing in Stacy's disappearance. Peterson, arrested in May 2009, remains held on a $20 million bond in the Will County jail.