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Challenge could lead to Peterson's release
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Will County States Attorney James Glasgow holds press conference Wednesday. He announced they will start the Peterson trial at a later date.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Drew Peterson

 

Will County Circuit Judge Stephen White

 

Kathleen Savio

 

Stacy Peterson

 

Eric Hanson

 

Will County States Attorney James Glasgow.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Will County States Attorney James Glasgow.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Kathleen Savio.

 

COURTESY SAVIO FAMILY

Kathleen Savio.

 

COURTESY SAVIO FAMILY

Kathleen Savio.

 

COURTESY SAVIO FAMILY

 1 of 11 
 
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Published: 7/7/2010 1:23 PM | Updated: 7/7/2010 9:40 PM

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Drew Peterson was supposed to face a pool of potential jurors Thursday.

Instead, the retired Bolingbrook police sergeant may be set free from the jail cell he's called home for 14 months, as prosecutors exhaust one last effort to use barred hearsay statements they argue proves Peterson killed his third wife to avoid a financially devastating divorce settlement.

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow is asking a state appellate court to overrule Circuit Judge Stephen D. White's decision barring a majority of more than one dozen hearsay statements that were the subject of a five-week reliability hearing this year.

Glasgow filed his notice of appeal Wednesday, one day before jury selection was set to begin. He cited a unanimous June 24 Illinois Supreme Court decision that upheld the death sentence of Eric C. Hanson of Naperville, who was convicted with similar hearsay evidence of killing his parents, sister and her husband in September 2005.

Peterson's defense team responded by asking White to free the 56-year-old Bolingbrook man until his trial, which now is expected to be delayed several months. A court hearing is set for Thursday.

Prosecutors must prove there's a compelling reason to continue to hold Peterson. Glasgow noted Peterson's $20 million bond already has withstood appeal, but defense attorneys were confident.

"I think there's a very good chance he's getting out," lead defense attorney Joel Brodsky said. "This is a good day."

Peterson is charged with the murder of Kathleen Savio in the former couple's Bolingbrook home in 2004, just before a contested financial settlement in their divorce. Her death was initially ruled an accidental bathtub drowning, but authorities reclassified it a homicide after exhuming the 40-year-old woman's body in late 2007, 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 the 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 would 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.

Much of the barred hearsay, in the view of DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett, whom Glasgow consulted in light of the Hanson ruling, is crucial. White's ruling disallowing much of it "gutted the prosecution's case," Birkett said.

Birkett said he, too, would have appealed regardless of a trial delay.

Glasgow didn't pull any punches in response to defense attorney Joseph Lopez's suggestion that the prosecution "chickened out" after realizing they don't have much of a case.

"What else would they say?" Glasgow said angrily. "Everything's a big joke to them. Everything's funny. This is not a funny case. This is about the murder of a mother of two, and it's a very solemn matter."

He continued: "We are ready, but in a criminal case, I only get one trial. There's a concept called double jeopardy. I'm obligated when I walk into a courtroom to have all the evidence I can possibly garner to get a successful verdict on behalf of the people of Illinois."

Peterson maintains his innocence. He has never been charged with any wrongdoing in Stacy's disappearance.

Relatives of both Kathleen Savio and Stacy Peterson said the prospect of Drew Peterson's release is disturbing. Still, they support the prosecution's decision to fight for the admissibility of the hearsay statements.

"I think we're disappointed, but we understand," said Nick Savio, Kathleen's younger brother. "You prepare yourself for something like this. We've been dealing with this for six years. (The defense) thinks this is just a big joke, but what if this was their family?"

"We're glad (Glasgow's) standing firm," added Pamela Bosco for Stacy's family. "It's been such a roller-coaster ride, but we're just happy the right steps are being taken to ensure Stacy's and Kathleen's voices are heard."

In Eric Hanson's case, the 33-year-old man 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 she was fatally bludgeoned that Hanson threatened to kill her if she exposed his theft of more than $80,000 from their parents.

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. Justices stated they "expressly recognize that the doctrine serves both as an exception to the hearsay rule and to extinguish confrontation clause claims."

Glasgow cited the Hanson decision Friday in asking White to reconsider. White refused to budge Tuesday, prompting Glasgow's appeal.

Timeline in Drew Peterson investigation

March 1, 2004: The body of Drew Peterson's third wife, Kathleen Savio, 40, is discovered in a bathtub in her Bolingbrook home. Her death is initially ruled an accidental drowning.

Oct. 29, 2007: His fourth wife, Stacy, is reported missing, a day after she fails to show up at a family member's home.

Nov. 9, 2007: Illinois State Police declare Drew Peterson a suspect in Stacy's disappearance and announce they've launched an investigation into Savio's drowning death. A Will County judge signs an order to exhume Savio's body.

Nov. 12, 2007: Drew Peterson resigns from the Bolingbrook Police Department, where he had been an officer for nearly three decades.

Nov. 13, 2007: Savio's body is exhumed for a second autopsy.

Nov. 16, 2007: Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden says Savio likely was murdered.

Nov. 21, 2007: A special Will County grand jury is convened to hear evidence in both cases involving Savio and Stacy Peterson.

Feb. 21, 2008: Kathleen Savio's death officially ruled a homicide.

May 21, 2008: Drew Peterson surrenders to police on a weapons charge unrelated to the disappearance of his fourth wife.

Nov. 20, 2008: Gun charges dropped against Peterson after Will County prosecutors refuse to hand over internal investigative documents.

May 7, 2009: Drew Peterson indicted on two counts of first-degree murder for Savio's drowning death; peacefully surrenders during a traffic stop.

May 18, 2009: Peterson pleads not guilty at arraignment; prosecution seeks judge substitution. Peterson remains held on a $20 million bond.