The Drew Peterson case: 2 wives to have major roles in pretrial hearing into drowning
By Steve Schmadeke
January 17, 2010
Former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Drew Peterson is charged with drowning estranged wife Kathleen Savio, but much of the information likely to be presented at a unique pretrial hearing that starts Tuesday will involve the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy.
For Stacy’s family, the hearing will provide their first detailed look at what was uncovered during the massive investigation launched after she vanished in 2007. Her disappearance and the exhumation afterward of Savio’s body and reclassification of her death as a homicide helped turn the case into national tabloid fodder.
Stacy’s family immediately feared the worst. She had talked of divorcing Peterson, and on the Saturday night before she disappeared, her sister Cassandra Cales said, Stacy leaned over the kitchen table in the Peterson home and whispered: “If I go missing, come find me.”
Kathleen Savio’s family also is hoping for more answers. After her sister drowned in 2004 while going through a bitter custody battle with Peterson, Sue Doman placed a note in her coffin asking her to tell her how she’d died, Doman told the Tribune last year.
When the body was later exhumed, Doman added a flower and a new note that read: “I’d been waiting four years and you still haven’t told me — so please tell me what happened to you,” she said.
For prosecutors and defense attorneys, the hearing that starts Tuesday and is expected to last a month will be a high-stakes marathon.
Prosecutors must prove by a “preponderance of evidence” that Peterson made Stacy or Kathleen “unavailable” to testify against him. If they succeed, Judge Stephen White has the option, under a new state law championed by State’s Attorney James Glasgow, of allowing certain statements to be heard at a jury trial.
One of the linchpins of the government’s case may be hearsay statements that Stacy and Kathleen allegedly made to others.
“Drew Peterson has told me he’s going to kill me and make it look like an accident,” is how Glasgow in court described the statement Savio allegedly made to “trusted friends and relatives.”
Peterson attorney Joel Brodsky last week said the hearsay statements were “rumor and innuendo and gossip” from “out-and-out unreliable people.”
As part of their case to essentially prove, under a lower standard than required at trial, that Peterson killed his wife, prosecutors have subpoenaed records of “bathtub-related fatalities” from 14 Illinois counties, including Will, DuPage, Lake and Cook, for the years 2003 to 2005, according to court records.
Prosecutors will likely use them to argue that the circumstances of Savio’s death — the 1-inch gash on her head, along with bruises and cuts elsewhere — are so singular that she could only have been murdered.
Glasgow has said Savio’s death was “staged to look like an accident” and that Peterson knew facts about the manner of death only the killer could have known.
Brodsky agrees that the autopsy results are straightforward — but that they clearly point to an accidental drowning.
It may be a daunting task for Judge White. Prosecutors have turned over lists of hundreds of pieces of evidence in Savio’s death and Peterson’s disappearance.
There are hundreds of potential witnesses, including two former acquaintances of Peterson who wore wires and also videotaped him, Brodsky has said in court, asking that prosecutors reveal whether they were paid.
It’s not clear how or when prosecutors will address their own handling of the Savio case. Glasgow expressed frustration with his predecessor at a hearing last spring, noting that a letter Savio wrote to prosecutors alleging that Peterson sneaked into her home in 2002 and held a knife to her throat did not result in battery charges being filed.
Prosecutors have said in court that in Savio’s original autopsy, the pathologist was not asked to rule on the manner of death. A coroner’s jury ruled it accidental.
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