Openings, testimony Tuesday at Peterson trial

AP News
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Posted: Jul 30, 2012 7:16 PM
Openings, testimony Tuesday at Peterson trial

CHICAGO (AP) — Lawyers will begin Tuesday to pull together the disjointed story of Drew Peterson and his ill-fated wives to make a case for the ex-cop's guilt or innocence, all the while navigating a bevy of legal issues — from how much hearsay evidence to admit and to just how to describe Peterson's missing fourth wife.

The murder trial's opening statements and first witnesses are scheduled for Tuesday, nearly a decade after the 58-year-old former cop's third wife was found dead in a bathtub and five years after his young fourth wife vanished without a trace.

The case has drawn national attention amid speculation Peterson, now 58, used his law enforcement expertise in a bid to get away with the 2004 murder of Kathleen Savio, 40, and to make 23-year-old Stacy Peterson disappear in 2007.

"This is as unusual a case as a case can be," said Terry Sullivan, a former prosecutor who helped convict serial killer John Wayne Gacy. "You have unique rulings ... reliance of hearsay ... the sensationalism of the case."

The saga is straight out of the movies — attractive wives, a bad-boy former cop, affairs and alleged murder — and was turned into a TV movie starring Rob Lowe that premiered this January, "Drew Peterson: Untouchable."

Tuesday's openings pit the dry but dogged James Glasgow, Will County's state's attorney, against flamboyant defense lawyer Joel Brodsky, both of whom have staked their reputations on the outcome.

Peterson's attorney says he will tell the jurors, who include a part-time poet, letter carrier and a research technician whose favorite TV show is "Criminal Minds," the life story of his client and Savio.

The former Bolingbrook police sergeant was charged with murder in Savio's death only after the disappearance of Stacy Peterson. He is a suspect in her disappearance but hasn't been charged.

"I'll tell a story from the beginning to the end so they can understand what's going on," Brodsky said about his planned Tuesday opening. "Until now, everything has been told just in slices."

The defense has described Savio's death as a tragic accident, and they have said Stacy Peterson, whose body has never been found, may have run off with another man.

Glasgow has declined to discuss his opening, but told reporters last week he was eager to begin presenting the state's case, saying, "We have finally come to the point we've been waiting for."

He may face the greater challenge. A botched initial investigation into Savio's death left prosecutors with scant to no physical evidence, forcing them to rely heavily on hearsay evidence — statements not heard directly by a witnesses — which is normally barred at trials.

Glasgow has said previously that Savio and Stacy Peterson will effectively speak to jurors through witnesses who can describe how Drew Peterson allegedly told his wives he could murder them and make it look like an accident.

But Judge Edward Burmila has said he would decide what hearsay statements to admit only as testimony proceeds. These delayed rulings will put Glasgow in a bind Tuesday.

The elephant in the courtroom will be Stacy Peterson.

Judge Burmila has warned prosecutors they can't tell jurors Drew Peterson is responsible for her disappearance or refer to authorities' belief that she is dead — if allowed, it would improve chances of a guilty verdict.

Attorneys on both sides will have to find the right terminology in talking about the fourth wife, said Brodsky, who added that the sides might be able to use the phrase "she is no longer available."

Prosecutors say Peterson killed Savio because he feared their pending divorce settlement would wipe him out financially. And they believe he killed Stacy because she knew about Savio's death.

The hurdles that prosecutors face aren't insurmountable, said Kathleen Zellner, a Chicago-area defense attorney.

It may be enough to demonstrate with circumstantial evidence that the only explanation for Savio's death is that Peterson killed her.

"If you can show motive and opportunity, they could get conviction," she said.

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Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm