By Danya Hooker
The state can’t keep items seized from Drew Peterson’s home forever, but they can keep them at least another three weeks, a Will County judge said Friday.
Judge Richard Schoenstedt rejected Assistant State’s Atty. John Connor’s assertion that the state has a right to potentially hold onto Peterson’s property forever, as long as there is a pending investigation.
“I don’t believe the words ‘pending investigation’ were meant to convey forever,” Schoenstedt said during a hearing on a motion filed by Peterson attorney Joel Brodsky to have the items returned.
Police seized the items–11 guns, two laptops, three desktop computers, and two vehicles–during a Nov. 1 search warrant execution. Police have called Peterson a suspect in his fourth wife Stacy’s Oct. 28 disappearance, which is being treated as a “possible homicide.”
The missing persons investigation also moved authorities to re-examine the March 2004 death of Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio. At the time, her death was ruled an accidental drowning but authorities now believe the death may have been a homicide staged to look like an accident.
Connor hinted during Friday’s hearing that Drew Peterson may also be a suspect in Savio’s death when he called the state’s case “potentially a double homicide investigation.”
Drew Peterson has denied any wrongdoing in either case and has not been charged with a crime.
Since he has not been charged with a crime, Drew Peterson’s attorneys, Joel Brodsky and Andrew Abood, argued before the judge Friday that all necessary testing and documentation on the seized items should be completed by now and therefore should be returned.
“Times three, the state has had more than enough time to process evidence and to preserve that evidence,” Brodsky said. “The state will suffer no harm from returning these items.”
But Connor said this case has the potential to affect other investigations.
“What your honor would be doing is opening the floodgates. We’d all have to get out our surfboards because every (defendant) will be in here trying to get that evidence back,” Connor said.
“We’ll have Craig Stebic in here tomorrow, your honor. He’s going to want his vehicle back ” Connor added later, referring to the husband of missing Painfield woman Lisa Stebic. Craig Stebic has been labeled a “person of interest” in his wife’s April 2007 disappearance. He has not been charged.
Brodsky and Abood brought in Michigan-based forensic scientist Ann E. Chamberlain as an expert witness to bolster their claims that the state should be done testing and processing Peterson’s property.
Chamberlain walked the court through typical testing and processing procedures on guns, computers and vehicles and said the process can be completed within a couple of weeks.
Before Chamberlain was allowed to testify, Connor questioned her qualifications as an expert witness due to the circumstances of her termination from a Michigan state police crime lab in August 2007.
Chamberlain admitted she was fired for using the state lab to conduct DNA tests to confirm her husband was having an affair. She now works in the Eaton County Medical Examiner’s Office and with a private lab, Speckin Forensic Laboratories. Schoenstedt later cleared her as an expert witness.
In a bizarre twist in questioning, Connor asked Chamberlain how long it would take to process a vehicle if forensic scientists were to “completely disassemble” the vehicle.
“That’s not general practice to completely disassemble a vehicle,” Chamberlain replied.
Brodsky spoke to reporters outside of the courthouse after the testimony and said this was the first time he had heard his client’s vehicles may have been disassembled.
“If they’re going to be disassembling a vehicle, that just shows how many straws they’re grasping at,” Brodsky said
Schoenstedt set another hearing on the petition for 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27.