A judge said Thursday he would order a divorce lawyer to testify about conversations he had with Drew Peterson's ex-wife before her 2004 drowning death -- a ruling that defense attorneys said could help them even though they had fought allowing the testimony.
Defense attorneys acknowledged that the judge did not say specifically what the attorney, Harry Smith, would be ordered to testify to that would help their case in defending Peterson against a first-degree murder charge in the death of his ex-wife, Kathleen Savio. But they said Will County Judge Edward Burmila's comment that Smith must testify about "inculpatory" statements that Savio made suggests to them Savio lied under oath.
"This is a home run for us," attorney Joe Lopez said after Burmila issued his ruling in a Joliet courtroom. "If this pans out it looks to us like she lied under oath and if that's so we will be free to argue she is a perjurer and a liar."
In another ruling before next month's scheduled trial of Peterson, Burmila told attorneys that a pastor of Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, might be allowed to testify. At a pretrial hearing more than two years ago, the pastor, Neil Schori testified that before Stacy Peterson disappeared in 2007, she told him of seeing Drew Peterson, dressed all in black, dumping his clothes and women's clothing that did not belong to Stacy into their washing machine the night before Savio's body was found. Peterson is a suspect in Stacy Peterson's disappearance but has not been charged.
A spokesman for the state's attorney's office declined to discuss the rulings.
Without knowing exactly what Smith's testimony might entail, Drew Peterson's attorneys had argued against allowing him to testify. Based on comments made by the judge, Peterson attorney Joel Brodsky now said he thinks Smith's statements are tied to Savio's battery arrest after an incident involving Stacy Peterson, whose disappearance triggered a new investigation into Savio's death, the exhumation of her body and ultimately the arrest of Drew Peterson.
Savio was subsequently acquitted, and Brodsky said that the judge's ruling suggests to him that she said one thing on the witness stand and something else to Smith.
"This may mean she said something (to Smith) that implicated her in a crime," he said.
Whether or not the ruling will help or hurt the prosecution remains to be seen. But in a case in which prosecutors have not talked about any physical evidence linking Peterson to the crime -- ruled an accidental drowning until Savio's body was exhumed three years after she died -- Savio's statements are crucial.
From the time Peterson was arrested in 2009 when Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow talked about allowing Savio to "testify from the grave" it has been clear that much of the prosecution depends on exactly that.
In 2010, at a hearing to determine which hearsay evidence a jury should be allowed to hear, one witness after another testified about how Savio told them about threats Peterson made and how she feared he would kill her and make it look like an accident. Smith testified that shortly before she disappeared, Stacy Peterson contacted him and told him that Drew Peterson was angry because he suspected she'd told someone that he'd killed Savio.
The former Bolingbrook police sergeant's attorneys initially argued that Smith should not be allowed to testify because his statements would be hearsay. The later argued that it would be a violation of the attorney-client privilege.
Last week, Burmila said that the privilege had been waived but added that he was concerned Smith had not shared information that might help Peterson.
Then, after meeting privately with Smith, he announced Thursday, according to Brodsky, that Savio had "said something that was inculputory."
Fellow defense attorney Steven Greenberg said that he now wonders if prosecutors will even call Smith to testify.
"If they don't, we might," he said.