By Danya Hooker
A Will County judge Thursday dismissed two felony gun charges against Drew Peterson after a prosecutor refused to comply with an order to turn state records over to the defense.
“We’re very pleased,” Peterson’s attorney Joel Brodsky said. “We believe the only reason the state didn’t want to turn over the documents is because they would’ve helped us.”
Peterson, the sole suspect in his fourth wife Stacy’s disappearance, had been charged with two felony weapons violations and was scheduled to go to trial for the charges in early December The charges allege he illegally owned an assault rifle with barrel shorter than the state minimum of 16 inches.
The rifle, along with other guns and possessions, were seized last November as part of the investigation into the October 2007 disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, and the March 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, is the sole suspect in his wife’s disappearance, which police are calling a “potential homicide.” Savio’s drowning was ruled a homicide but police have not named a suspect. Peterson has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.
But he is under investigation for the crimes, and Peterson has often accused state police of harassment. Shortly after the weapons were seized, Peterson asked that the guns be returned. The same day Schoenstedt granted his request, state police revoked Peterson’s right to possess a firearm.
Peterson then asked the judge to allow him to transfer the weapons to his son, Stephen, an Oak Brook police officer. On May 21, the day before Schoenstedt granted the transfer request, police arrested Peterson for the felonies.
That timing was the basis for Peterson’s attorneys Andrew Abood and Brodsky defense tactic of “vindictive prosecution.” The attorneys sought to prove that charges were the result of Peterson’s successful attempt at exercising his constitutional rights to regain his property.
To help prove their case, the attorneys asked Schoenstedt to force the state to turn over any documents, including communications between state police and prosecutors, relating to the state’s decision to charge Peterson. Schoenstedt granted the motion Thursday.
After discussing the issue in chambers, Assistant State’s Atty. John Connor asked Schoenstedt to reconsider the motion, arguing that the ruling would open a floodgate of similar requests by defendants seeking access to normally privileged information.
Schoenstedt upheld his original order and Connor said that he would refuse to comply with the order, saying he did not want Will County to be the first county in the state subjected to the potential onslaught of “vindictive prosecution” defenses. The refusal left Schoenstedt no choice but to either dismiss the charges or hold Connor in contempt, which could lead either to jail time or a fine.
“I believe what he says to this court as to his reasons for refusing to comply with this court,” Schoenstedt said. “However, the state has given me little option…counts one and two are dismissed.”
For the first time in the months-long court battle, Peterson and his attorneys walked out of the Will County Courthouse with smiles.
“I love these guys,” Peterson said as he proceeded to place exaggerated kisses on Abood and Brodsky’s heads.
Charles Pelkie, spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office, said the state plans to appeal the judge’s decision and is confident an appellate court will rule in its favor.
“The judge’s decision in this matter would’ve opened a Pandora’s Box across the state,” Pelkie said. “What (the defense) was asking for was essentially a fishing expedition.”
The victory came just one day after a potential setback for Peterson. On Wednesday, state representatives approved a bill to allow hearsay testimony in first-degree murder trials where the witness was murdered to prevent testimony.
The law, effective immediately, could potentially be used against Peterson in the event he is charged with the murder of his wives. Both women told friends and family they feared their husband.
In December, Stacy Peterson’s pastor Neil Schori told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that the young mother had confided to him that Drew Peterson told her he had killed Savio.
Brodsky said he does not believe his client will be charged with the murders and that the new law will not affect a potential case against his client.
“I don’t think this law will apply,” Brodsky said. “But I am concerned because this type of law is going to allow rumor and gossip in as evidence.”