Court gives OK for hearsay in Drew Peterson case

MICHAEL TARM
FILE - In this May 8, 2009, file photo, former Bolingbrook, Ill., police sergeant Drew Peterson yells to reporters as he arrives at the Will County Courthouse in Joliet, Ill. The Third District Appellate Court on Thursday, April 12, 2012, gave the go-ahead for some hearsay evidence at the trial of a former suburban Chicago police officer accused of killing his third wife Kathleen Savio. It hands a major legal defeat to defense attorneys for Peterson. The earlier rulings to exclude many second-hand statements had raised fresh questions about the viability of trying Peterson on charges he killed Kathleen Savio in 2004. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — An appellate court ruled Thursday that two of Drew Peterson's ex-wives can effectively testify from the grave during the trial of the suburban Chicago police officer charged with murder in one of their deaths and suspected in the other.

The Third District Appellate Court's ruling giving the go-ahead to present additional hearsay evidence to jurors is a victory for prosecutors. Earlier rulings to exclude many of the secondhand statements had raised questions about the viability of trying Peterson on charges he killed Kathleen Savio in 2004.

"It's very good news," said Charles Pelkie, a spokesman for Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow, after the court released its opinion. "We anticipate a trial later this spring or early in the summer."

One of Peterson's lawyers said he wished the court would have sided with the defense, but he stop short of characterizing Thursday's ruling as a defeat.

"We're obviously disappointed that they will be able to present unreliable evidence to try and convict somebody, but we are not afraid of (prosecutors') case," Steven A. Greenberg said. "We will be ready for trial."

Greenberg said defense attorneys could appeal the decision to Illinois Supreme Court and then, if need be, to the U.S. Supreme Court. But he said they are leaning against doing so before trial.

"We could appeal after the trial, if we lose," he said. "So why not just go to trial and see if they can prove it. I don't think they can."

The decision not to appeal could also mean the trial, repeatedly delayed as the hearsay issue played out in the courts, could finally get a fixed starting date.

The legal saga surrounding the burly, mustachioed ex-cop has attracted national attention, even inspiring a TV movie starring Rob Lowe as Peterson.

The 57-year-old former Bolingbrook police sergeant is charged with first-degree murder in the 2004 drowning death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, and is a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. Drew Peterson has denied involvement in either death.

Peterson has been jailed since his May 2009 arrest on charges of killing Savio. He was charged only after Stacy Peterson disappeared and Savio's body was exhumed.

Thursday's ruling, Greenberg said, indicated that the lower court erred in excluding statements on the grounds that they were unreliable — something that should be left up to jurors to assess.

Attorneys have declined to offer details about the hearsay statements, citing a gag order.

But a person familiar with the case previously told The Associated Press the statements included one from Stacy Peterson's pastor, who said she told him she'd given Peterson a false alibi the weekend of Savio's death. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because judge's orders have been sealed.

Savio's body was found in a dry bathtub, her hair soaked in blood from a head wound, just before the couple's divorce settlement was finalized. Her death originally was ruled an accidental drowning but authorities later said it was a homicide staged to look like an accident.

While neither side has talked much about the evidence in the case, from the day Peterson was arrested, Glasgow, the state's attorney, has made it clear the women's statements about their fears of Peterson and the threats he made against them is crucial

"In essence, what you're basically allowing the victim of a violent crime to do is testify from the grave," Glasgow, who pushed for passage of the bill, told reporters shortly after Peterson was arrested.

Authorities have said they believe Stacy Peterson is dead, but Drew Peterson has never been charged in that case.

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Associated Press reporters Carla K. Johnson and Don Babwin also contributed to this report.

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