Defense drops mistrial bid in murder trial of ex-Illinois policeman

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 15, 2012 12:11 PM
Defense drops mistrial bid in murder trial of ex-Illinois policeman

By Adam Kirby

JOLIET, Illinois (Reuters) - The defense team for Drew Peterson withdrew its motion for a mistrial Wednesday morning in the ex-police officer's high-profile murder case.

Peterson, a former sergeant for the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook's police force, is accused of killing Kathleen Savio, his third wife, while they were engaged in a contentious divorce in 2004 and then staging her death to look like an accidental drowning. The case was the subject of a television movie.

His defense team had requested a mistrial Tuesday after the prosecution violated Judge Edward Burmila's ban against referring to an order of protection that Savio had considered seeking in 2002. Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Patton referred to the order while questioning a prosecution witness, a former police officer.

Peterson's lawyers dropped their request on Wednesday, however, after Burmila refused to consider only the form of mistrial preferred by the defense team, one that would have served as the functional equivalent of an acquittal rather than simply forcing a new trial.

"The defendant wants this jury to decide this case; he does not want to hide behind any legal technicality," defense attorney Joe Lopez said in dropping the motion.

Burmila granted a joint request from the defense and prosecution to inform the jury that Savio never actually sought or received an order of protection against Peterson.

The judge, however, rejected the defense's request to strike all hearsay testimony to date.

With little physical evidence to link Peterson to Savio's death, hearsay testimony that Peterson repeatedly threatened Savio has been central to the prosecution's case, and prosecution witnesses have portrayed Savio as having lived in constant fear of Peterson.

Investigators initially ruled Savio's death accidental. Suspicions were raised, however, when Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007. Savio's body was exhumed and re-examined and Peterson was charged with murder.

The Peterson case has drawn national attention and was the subject of a popular Lifetime television network movie, "Untouchable," starring Rob Lowe. Peterson is the sole suspect in the disappearance of Stacy Peterson, who has never been found. His first and second wives have remarried.

The testimony of the ex-officer, Teresa Kernc, resumed Wednesday after the defense dropped the mistrial motion, its third since the trial began July 31.

(Editing by Dan Burns and Cynthia Osterman)