Experts: Police botched 1st Peterson investigation
By MICHAEL TARM and DON BABWIN
The Associated Press
Saturday, January 23, 2010; 1:57 PM
JOLIET, Ill. — From nearly the moment the lead investigator stepped into the suburban Chicago area home where former policeman Drew Peterson’s third wife was found dead in a dry bathtub, he treated her death as a tragic accident.
Illinois State Police Sgt. Patrick Collins collected no forensics evidence from the scene – not fingerprints, unfinished drinks or clothes. Most disturbingly, say experts, Collins let Peterson sit in on what may have been a vital interview.
Six years later, as prosecutors and defense attorneys prepare for Peterson’s trial on charges of murdering Kathleen Savio, one thing has become clear: Police blew the initial investigation, undermining prosecutors’ ability to prove their case.
“The incompetency that comes out is somewhat unbelievable,” said Richard Brzeczek, a former Chicago police superintendent who now works in private criminal defense. “It seems that, pretty fundamentally, what should have been done was not done.”
Among the litany of mistakes: Collins said he never asked anyone whether Savio’s body had been touched or moved, he never tried to account for her body being bent forward, and he never interviewed her relatives. And when he left the house, he didn’t seal it, meaning someone could walk in and take, move or even clean something.
“They could have had the evidence with a proper investigation,” Brzeczek said. “A prosecution’s extremely more difficult now.”
The now-retired Collins testified Thursday and Friday at a pretrial hearing meant to determine what, if any, “hearsay” evidence prosecutors can use during Peterson’s murder trial.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys hit Collins with tough questions, with prosecutors trying to show he could have gathered evidence pointing to Peterson’s involvement in Savio’s death. The defense, which has long claimed Savio’s death was an accident, argued that even if someone had killed her, the investigation was so shoddy it would be impossible to determine who that was.
Peterson has pleaded not guilty in Savio’s 2004 death. Officials exhumed her body and ruled her death a homicide only after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007. He hasn’t been charged in her disappearance, but authorities say he’s the only suspect.
Brzeczek says one of the glaring examples of Collins’ poor judgment was permitting Peterson to attend an interview of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, in which she was asked about her husband’s whereabouts the day Savio died. Peterson and Savio had divorced and Peterson married Stacy Peterson before Savio died.
Collins testified that Peterson not only sat in on the interview, he answered a question put to his wife about what they ate for breakfast that day.
“Collins should have said, ‘I’m sorry there are serious considerations here, we have a death investigation, and at this point there will be no profession courtesies,'” Brzeczek said. “You just cannot do those kind of things.”
There’s quite a bit more to this story.
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