Will County prosecutors were dealt a significant setback in the Drew Peterson case today, as an appellate court refused their request to allow critical hearsay statements at the ex-Bolingbrook police officer’s murder trial.
In a divided opinion by the Third District Appellate court, the justices ruled the Will County State’s Attorney’s office missed the appeal deadline when it sought to overturn a trial court’s decision barring eight hearsay statements. Prosecutors contend the statements are crucial to their efforts to convict Peterson for the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
Peterson’s lawyers described the decision as a major victory for their client.
“It’s a big win because it keeps out evidence that was unreliable,” said attorney Steve Greenberg, who argued the defense team’s position before the appellate court. “It reduces the chance of the trial being based on rumor and innuendo.”
Will County prosecutors have not yet commented on the ruling.
The case, which has drawn national media attention, has been put on hold for more than a year as State’s Attorney James Glasgow pushed for the hearsay statements to be declared admissible. The trial judge had ruled jurors could not hear the statements because they were unreliable.
Peterson, 57, is charged with killing Savio, who was found dead in a dry bathtub in 2004. Officials initially said the death was an accidental drowning, but authorities reopened the case after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished in October 2007. He remains a suspect in her disappearance but has not been charged.
Glasgow largely has built his case around pathology reports and 13 hearsay statements that he says would allow Savio and Stacy to speak from the grave. He even pushed for a new Illinois statute -- dubbed Drew's Law -- to allow secondhand testimony at trial if the judge finds it reliable and if the bulk of evidence shows that the defendant made the witness unavailable.
Though White sided with prosecutors in finding that the preponderance of evidence showed Peterson's wrongdoing, he still barred the majority of hearsay witnesses because they did "not provide sufficient safeguards of reliability."
Prosecutors can still appeal the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, but Peterson’s defense team believes the appellate ruling will be difficult to overturn.
“It’s clear that the state is a day late and a dollar short,” defense attorney Joseph Lopez said. “It’s a good day for Drew. It’s a good day for all of us.”
Appeals court upholds limits on Drew Peterson hearsay evidence
Drew Peterson at his home in 2009. (Chicago Tribune)