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Sealed document: Judge thinks Peterson likely committed murder
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Drew Peterson

 

Kathleen Savio

 

COURTESY SAVIO FAMILY

 1 of 2 
 
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Published: 7/20/2010 10:11 PM | Updated: 7/20/2010 10:14 PM

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It's more likely than not that Drew Peterson killed two of his wives, but the majority of hearsay statements prosecutors argue proves his guilt are not reliable enough for a jury to hear at trial, a Will County judge ruled in a sealed opinion.

On Tuesday, the Daily Herald obtained a full copy of Judge Stephen White's May 18 four-page written ruling barring eight of the 13 hearsay statements. Prosecutors appealed White's decision, which delayed the July 8 start of jury selection.

The statements are crucial for the prosecution, which lacks forensics, a confession or concrete medical evidence implicating the retired Bolingbrook police sergeant in the 2004 death of third wife Kathleen Savio.

Authorities initially called the 40-year-old Savio's bathtub drowning an accident, but they exhumed her body and ruled otherwise after suspicions grew in light of the October 2007 disappearance of Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, 23, who still hasn't been found.

White presided over a lengthy hearsay hearing last winter. A new state law requires such a hearing to determine reliability, though hearsay exceptions long have been allowed at trial under common law and in federal cases.

The Daily Herald previously reported that much of the barred hearsay statements deal with Stacy. For example, White barred her pastor, Neil Schori, from testifying that she admitted providing Drew Peterson with a false alibi the weekend Savio died. Schori still will be allowed, though, to tell of a conversation the pastor said he had with Stacy in which she described how Peterson returned home in the early morning hours, the weekend Savio died, dressed in black with a bag containing woman's clothing.

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.

White also allowed the following other statements:

• Savio to sister Anna Doman: "Drew said he's going to kill me and I would not make it to the divorce settlement, I will never get his pension or my children."

• Savio to Mary Susan Parks, a Joliet Junior College friend, of Peterson: "He could kill her and no one would know," and that Peterson broke into her home in late fall 2003, grabbed Savio by her throat and said, "Why don't you just die?"

White ruled prosecutors proved Peterson killed both women "by a preponderance of the evidence," as the hearsay law requires, which is a lesser legal standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But, White said, nearly all statements attributed to Stacy Peterson "do not provide sufficient safeguards of reliability as to the time, contents and circumstances of the statements."

Drew Peterson, 56, denies wrongdoing in both cases. He remains held on a $20 million bond, though his lawyers are seeking his release during the appeals process.

White sealed his opinion to protect against tainting Peterson's jury, but he admonished 240 potential jurors in the pool last August to avoid all Peterson media coverage until the trial. Those folks still are on standby.

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow argues Peterson faced financial devastation from the former couple's upcoming settlement as he tried to begin a new life with his bride, Stacy, about 30 years his junior, and their new baby.

Glasgow appealed White's May 18 ruling, but the defense team argues prosecutors missed the 30-day deadline. Even if the hourglass ran out, Glasgow argued the appeal should be heard because a recent Illinois Supreme Court decision "markedly changed the law."

Glasgow cited a June 24 Illinois Supreme Court decision upholding the DuPage County death penalty conviction of Eric Hanson for the 2005 slayings of four relatives that the prosecutor said shows he is entitled to present additional hearsay evidence.

In its unanimous opinion, the state high court found long-existing common law does not require them to weigh a hearsay statement's reliability for its admissibility.

"The people will argue that a material change in the law is akin to a material change in facts," Glasgow wrote in this week's appellate motion, "and the people will submit that (Hanson) marked a material change in the law."

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, 23, 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 death; peacefully surrenders during a traffic stop. Peterson remains jailed on $20 million bond.

Oct. 2, 2009: Will Circuit Judge Stephen White upholds new state law that allows Savio beyond-the-grave hearsay evidence at trial if later deemed reliable.

Jan. 19, 2010: A landmark hearsay court hearing begins in which prosecutors lay out their evidence against Peterson in Savio's death. Judge White later issues written ruling barring the majority of more than one dozen hearsay statements, though he allows some incriminating evidence to be heard.

July 8, 2010: The anticipated start of jury selection gets delayed as prosecutors ask Third District Appellate Court to overrule Circuit Judge Stephen White's May 18 decision barring at trial the majority of more than one dozen hearsay statements. Judge White denies defense request to release Peterson from jail pending prosecution's appeal.