An increasingly exasperated judge at former Bolingbrook police sergeant Drew Peterson's murder trial delivered his strongest rebuke of prosecutors yet on Wednesday after a pathologist spoke about crawling into the bathtub where Peterson's third wife was found dead.
Prosecutors are trying to prove that Peterson, 58, killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, whose 2004 death was initially ruled accidental. Savio's body was re-examined and her death reclassified as a homicide only after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007.
Dr. Larry Blum, a forensic pathologist, testified Wednesday about how he determined Savio's death was a homicide, reversing an initial finding that she died in an accidental fall. Judge Edward Burmila had told attorneys for the state before Blum took the stand that he could not talk about getting into the tub where Savio was found dead.
When Blum did just that under questioning from Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow, Burmila sent jurors out of the room and took Glasgow to task.
"It does not appear that any orders I have given the state pays attention to," said Burmila, who once lost an election to Glasgow for the state's attorney's job. Burmila ran as a Republican and Glasgow as a Democrat.
Glasgow apologized for not noticing Blum was about to veer into prohibited testimony, telling Burmila that after an hour and a half asking witness questions, "I was getting a little woozy."
Burmila bristled, noting that an assistant prosecutor the day before had said a momentary lapse caused her to ask a question of another witness she had been barred from asking.
"Yesterday it was a brain cramp. Today it's wooziness," Burmila said angrily. "The disrespect to the court is shocking."
Defense attorney Ralph Meczyk asked Burmila to throw out all of Blum's testimony, saying prosecutors have continually flouted the judge's rules and then claimed they were innocent mistakes.
"It is slips in the tub and slips in the courtroom," he said, mocking the state's explanations for the errors.
Burmila refused to throw out Blum's testimony and allowed him later to continue on the stand. But he added, "We are not going to continue to visit the state's ignoring the courts rulings on the admissibility of evidence in this case."
The blunder came just hours after Peterson's attorneys told the judge he wanted to withdraw a motion for a mistrial made after Tuesday's mistake. In that instance, a prosecutor asked a witness about whether Savio had ever sought an order of protection from Peterson. State attorneys were told not to bring that subject up.
The prosecution's blunder Tuesday was the third in as many weeks to prompt Burmila to give serious consideration to declaring a mistrial.
As a hushed courtroom waited Wednesday morning to hear the judge's decision on the mistrial motion, defense attorney Joe Lopez said his team was withdrawing the request.
"We are not giving the state a practice run," Lopez said, referring to how the state could seek to adjust their strategy at any retrial. "This is a real race and Mr. Peterson wants the world to know that he's not afraid. He wants to keep this jury in its place."
Peterson has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Savio's death. He is also a suspect in Stacy Peterson's disappearance, although he has never been charged in her case. Authorities presume she is dead, though a body has never been found.