Credit: M. Spencer Green/AP Photo
An appellate court granted prosecutors' request to use hearsay testimony from friends and family of two ex-wives of Drew Peterson, the ex-Illinois police officer who was charged with murder in one of their deaths and is the sole suspect in the other's disappearance.
Peterson, 57, was charged with killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio, whose body was found in a bathtub in 2004, and was named a person-of-interest in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. He has been imprisoned since his May 2009 arrest on charges of killing Savio, but denies involvement in either case.
Steven A. Greenberg, one of Peterson's lawyers, said the appellate court's ruling is disappointing.
"We're disappointed but we're not afraid of the case and it doesn't change anything because the trial court already found many statements were unreliable," said Steven A. Greenberg, one of Peterson's lawyers.
A lower court ruled to exclude many secondhand statements as testimony on the grounds that they were unreliable.
"As a lawyer and an American, it's pretty scary when courts say that we can try to convict people beyond reasonable doubt based on evidence that's unreliable," Greenberg said. "This should not be a game of chance or gotcha."
The prosecutors, who have based their case on hearsay testimony, took the ruling as a victory.
"It's very good news," Charles Pelkie, a spokesman for Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow, told The Associated Press. "We anticipate a trial later this spring or early in the summer."
In a pre-trial hearing that ended last February, a judge heard testimony from more than 60 witnesses, including Savio's family and friends, who said that Savio told them she expected her husband to kill her.
Savio's sister, Susan Doman, who testified in the pre-trial hearing, said Savio predicted Peterson would kill her.
"She said, 'Drew is going to kill me and it's going to look like an accident…He can make me disappear,'" Doman recalled.
Stacy Peterson's minister, Neil Schori, who testified in the pre-trial hearing, claimed the reason she disappeared was because she knew the truth about how Peterson's third wife had died.
The hearing centered on a 2008 Illinois state law, dubbed "Drew's Law," which allows for hearsay evidence in first-degree murder cases if prosecutors can show a defendant killed a victim to prevent him or her from testifying.
Savio's death was originally ruled an accident, as her autopsy showed that she drowned. Within a year, Peterson married Stacy Peterson, and they had two children. In 2007, Stacy Peterson disappeared. Peterson was named a person-of-interest and shortly thereafter police re-opened the case surrounding Savio's death and exhumed her body.