By Adam Kirby
JOLIET, Illinois (Reuters) - The wife of former Chicago-area police officer Drew Peterson once covered up marks on her neck with a zipped up jacket and said her husband had threatened to kill her, a classmate of the woman testified on Thursday at Peterson's murder trial.
Peterson is accused of killing Kathleen Savio, his third wife, while they were engaged in a contentious divorce in 2004 and staging her death to look like an accidental drowning.
Mary Parks, testifying near the end of the second week of Peterson's murder trial, said Savio showed her the marks on her neck and told her they were caused by Peterson grabbing her and pinning her down.
Savio's death was initially considered accidental. Suspicions were raised, however, when Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007. Savio's body was exhumed and reexamined, and Peterson was charged with murder.
The Peterson case has drawn national attention and was the subject of a Lifetime television network movie "Untouchable" starring Rob Lowe. Peterson is also the sole suspect in the disappearance of Stacy Peterson, who has never been found. His first and second wives have remarried.
Parks, who met Savio while they were both studying nursing at a junior college, testified that Savio told her that Peterson threatened her during the attack.
"Kathy told me that her husband said, and I quote: ‘Why don't you just die,'" Parks said.
Savio believed Peterson could murder her and make it look like an accident, Parks testified. "He could kill her and make her disappear," Parks said Savio told her.
Defense attorneys sought to expose discrepancies in Parks' testimony, pointing out in questioning that Parks said Savio had spoken to her about threats during a class in fall 2003, but transcripts showed they had not shared a class that semester.
Parks then said the conversation took place before a different class, one which Savio was not taking.
At other times, defense attorney Steve Greenberg sought to characterize Savio's claims about Peterson as the exaggerations of an angry, pity-seeking ex-wife. Parks rejected that notion.
"Everything she told me, I have no reason to believe she was lying," Parks said. She added that she did not attend Savio's wake and funeral partly because she feared meeting Peterson.
With little physical evidence to link Peterson to Savio's death, prosecutors have sought to introduce testimony that he threatened her and tried to hire a hitman.
Defense attorneys have objected to the testimony as hearsay and twice sought mistrials. Judge Edward Burmila has denied a mistrial, but has limited the testimony prosecutors may present.
The trial is expected to continue on Friday in Will County. Future prosecution witnesses are expected to include pathologist Dr. Larry Blum, who performed the second autopsy on Savio, and Will County Coroner Patrick O'Neil.
(Reporting by Adam Kirby; Editing by David Bailey)