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updated: 7/27/2011 9:29 AM

Hearsay ruling a big blow to Peterson prosecutors

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  • Drew Peterson

      Drew Peterson

 
Associated Press

A state appellate court on Tuesday upheld a judge's ruling that disallowed some hearsay -- or secondhand -- evidence from being used against Drew Peterson, a blow to prosecutors who have not revealed any physical evidence linking the former police sergeant to his ex-wife's death.

A panel of the Third District Appellate Court in suburban Ottawa said in its ruling that the only way it could overrule now-retired Will County Judge Stephen White was if it found that the judge had abused his discretion.

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But the panel found that White's ruling was reasonable.

While prosecutors have never said what if any physical evidence they have against Peterson in the 2004 drowning death of Kathleen Savio, they made it clear last July on the day before jury selection was to begin when they announced they'd delay the trial by appealing the judge's decision that it was crucial to their case.

While Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said that prosecutors were "very confident in our case," the hearsay hearing also underscored some major problems.

There was, for example, testimony that Savio's death was originally ruled an accident, as well as admissions by police investigators and an evidence technician that not a single fingerprint or any other physical evidence linking Peterson to the death was ever collected.

Glasgow's office did not immediately return a call for comment. But one of Peterson's attorneys said the ruling can only be viewed as devastating to prosecutors.

"The reason they appealed is they said the rulings (by Judge White) prevents them from presenting their case," said Joel Brodsky. "The state's case is weak as it always was."

And Steve Greenberg, who argued on Peterson's behalf before the appellate court said the ruling was a "total" victory.

"They (the judges) didn't buy a single one of the state's arguments," he said.

In fact, he said that not only did the judges rule that prosecutors did not file their appeal soon enough, but that the judges agreed with White that prosecutors should not be allowed to admit various statements from several people, including Savio and Stacy Peterson, Drew Peterson's fourth wife who disappeared in 2007.

Further, the judges ruled White was correct to rule against allowing evidence of some alleged offenses by Peterson before Savio's death because it "would unfairly prejudice the defendant."

That could prove particularly damaging to the prosecutors' case against Peterson, said David Erickson, a former judge and professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

"They wouldn't have g one after proof of other crimes if they didn't need it," he said.

Erickson said the hearsay evidence would have been particularly important in a case that appears to be absent any direct evidence against Peterson.

"They're trying to create a big circle around this guy that shows he's the only guy who could have done this," he said. "Any loss in that kind of case is going to leave a big hole in that circle."

The ruling was particularly frustrating to Savio's family, who has been trying to convince authorities since shortly after Savio's death that she did not simply drown accidentally.

"It's just very upsetting that we tried to give all this information to everybody years ago," right after Savio was found dead, said Melissa Marie Doman of Romeoville, Savio's niece. "And nobody wanted to hear it."

Doman said that if prosecutors have more evidence against Peterson, she does not know what it is.

"Depending on what prosecutors have, they might be back to square one, which I hope not," she said.

Just what hearsay evidence White did not allow has never been revealed and the court, in its ruling, would not disclose it either.

But during the hearsay hearing last year, witnesses testified before White about statements Savio made about being afraid of Peterson and that she'd told them that Peterson said he could kill them and make it look like an accident.

Friends of Stacy Peterson, who disappeared in 2007 and is presumed dead by authorities, said that she made similar statements to them. Drew Peterson has never been charged in Stacy Peterson's disappearance but authorities have said he is a suspect.

Peterson has denied his involvement in both Savio's death and Stacy Peterson's disappearance.

Brodsky said that the ruling clears the way for a trial within the next few months, unless Glasgow's office appeals Tuesday's ruling.

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