Drew Peterson trial and hearsay evidence. What you need to know.

The public: Three years smirk and swagger free

It’s been almost three years since Drew Peterson was arrested and charged with the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

From the moment that the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, was reported in the fall of 2007, Peterson alienated the public. Rather than using media coverage to help find his missing wife, he first insisted that he was a jilted husband and then assumed the persona of a bad-boy celebrity. He did the morning radio show circuit joking distastefully and disparaging his wives and their families. A year later, with his current wife still missing, Peterson was engaged to a 23-year-old and offered video packages to the media for a price. He shopped around for an opportunity to appear on a reality TV show and was about to audition for one based on a Las Vegas brothel, “Cathouse”. At the time of his arrest, Drew Peterson’s popularity was at an all-time low. The public couldn’t wait to see the smirk removed from his face at trial. But that was three years ago.

For the last three years, Peterson has remained in the medical unit of the Will County Adult Detention center. Unable to pay his $2 million bail or to win motions that would let him wait out his time to trial at home, he’s been housed away from the general population for his own safety in a solitary cell. During this time his defense team and the prosecutors for the state have prepared for his trial – a lengthy process of appeals, motions and hearings. The most contentious part of these preparations has been in regards to hearsay testimony, or rather statements made by Stacy Peterson and Kathleen Savio to other people or in writing that could point to Peterson being responsible for Savio’s death.

While the prosecution has battled in court to get these statements admitted, Peterson’s defense and PR people have peppered the gossip columns and news shows with misleading statements about “gossip, rumor and innuendo”. These statements coupled with the “poor me” letters from Peterson that are published along with pro-Peterson editorials in a certain less-than-respected paper (Chicago Sun-Times), plus the long wait to trial have led to a measure of turn-about in the public’s feelings about Drew Peterson. As the memory of Peterson’s smirk and swagger fade, the comments threads following news stories have begun to include a number of sympathetic sentiments about the father of six, locked away so long to await his trial. A common thread in these sympathetic comments is a total misunderstanding of the hearsay evidence to be admitted.

Let’s address some of the misconceptions:

“Hearsay sucks! It means that any Tom Dick or Harry can say that someone told them something bad about me and it will be admissible in court! That’s not constitutional!”

Under the hearsay rule, Tom, Dick or Harry’s second-hand statement would not be admissible. Why? Because it would be considered unreliable evidence as it was not stated under oath, cannot be observed by the jury and judge, and cannot be cross-examined and questioned for inaccuracy and ambiguity. However, first-hand testimony from the “someone” who talked to Tom, Dick or Harry would be far more reliable and the court might want them to testify and be cross-examined.

But what if for some reason that person couldn’t testify because the accused did something to make sure that “someone” wasn’t available to testify? Well, the court makes an exception for that and perhaps Tom, Dick or Harry will get to testify after all. It’s called “Forfeiture by Wrongdoing” and it means that the accused forfeits their right to confront a witness if they themselves have done something to keep that person from testifying.

In other words:

The Constitution does not guarantee an accused person against the legitimate consequences of his own wrongful acts. It grants him the privilege of being confronted with the witnesses against him; but if he voluntary keeps the witnesses away, he cannot insist on the privilege. If, therefore, when absent by his procurement, their evidence is supplied in some lawful way, he is in no condition to assert that his constitutional rights have been violated.

Kathleen and Stacy’s comments to others are being admitted because the judge believes to a sufficient degree of certainty that Drew Peterson made them unavailable to testify.

“But hearsay is always wrong! There’s a rule against it!”

One major misconception about the hearsay rule is that hearsay is never admissible in court.

The Hearsay Rule prevents most out of court statements from being used as evidence in court. Hearsay can be written, spoken, or even gestures… There are numerous exceptions to the Hearsay Rule, including dying declarations, spontaneous statements, descriptions of medical history, official records, and reputation of a person’s character…

Despite what a Sun-Times editorial might say there is no “nearly universal prohibition against hearsay evidence”.

“The prosecution made up a new law to go after Drew Peterson and that’s the only reason this hearsay is getting in to his trial!”

In November 2008 Public Act 095-1004 was passed into Illinois Law. Dubbed “Drew’s Law” by the media, it addressed a certain kind of hearsay exception. In essence it made an exception for hearsay statements when it could be shown to a reasonable extent that the accused had killed a witness in order to keep them from testifying at a trial.

Glasgow relied heavily on this statute in trying to get evidence admitted to Peterson’s trial but when eight statements were deemed unreliable due to the higher standards of reliability that the statute required, he then asked the court to consider the evidence under the common law hearsay exceptions. Ultimately the eight statements were considered “on their own merits” by a panel of three appellate justices and were deemed reliable and admissible. The new statute was not the criteria for their decision. Ironically, “Drew’s law” almost kept a majority of the hearsay evidence out of the trial.

“They are trying to get all this hearsay evidence into the trial because they don’t have any concrete evidence!”

Sadly, Kathleen Savio’s death scene was not treated as a crime scene. Those first on the scene didn’t follow the protocol for the possibility of a homicide. Beyond that, Drew Peterson was given special consideration as a police officer. His body was never examined for bruises or scratches. He was interviewed in the lunch-room of the police station where he worked. At Kathleen’s inquest, the jurors were not given the option of “undecided” as manner of death, one member of the coroner’s jury knew Peterson and told the others that he was a great guy, the ISP officer who testified was never present at the scene of Kathleen’s death. He even took it upon himself to inform the jurors of the exact location where Savio had hit her head on the tub (when it’s never been proven that she did hit her head on the tub). Kathleen Savio’s death investigation was mishandled and bungled in every possible way.

As the State’s prosecutor in this case, James Glasgow has done what he can to get as much evidence admitted to this trial as he can. If this was your mother, your daughter or your friend wouldn’t you want to see a prosecutor fight for every shred of evidence that might convict her murderer?

Possibly the strangest thing to me in regard to the opposition against these 13 hearsay statements is that those who seem the most incensed over them, never make any specific references to them. Do the opponents know what they are railing against or are they just having a knee-jerk reaction against hearsay, in general?

I have printed this list before, but I think it’s really important that people realize these are not the typical statements that are made during contentious divorces, as Peterson’s attorneys would have you believe.

So, once more here are the hearsay statements that have been deemed reliable and admissible (to the best of our knowledge):

1. Kathleen Savio’s letter to then-Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Fragale complaining of Drew Peterson’s abuse, including an alleged July 2002 attack when he put a knife to her throat.

2. Kristin Anderson’s testimony that Savio told of her fears that Peterson would kill her while her family briefly rented Savio’s basement in 2003.

3. A fellow student at Joliet Junior College, Mary Park’s testimony that she saw red marks on Kathleen’s neck that Savio attributed to Peterson in 2003.

4. Savio’s co-worker, Issam Karam’s testimony that Savio told him Peterson came into her home and held a knife to her throat.

5. Kathleen’s sister, Susan Savio’s testimony about her sister’s fears that Peterson would kill her.

6. Kathleen’s sister, Anna Doman’s testimony that shortly before she died, Savio asked Doman to care for her children if she died, saying Peterson wanted to kill her.

7. Savio’s handwritten statement attached to a Bolingbrook police report on the July 2002 incident.

8. Six audio excerpts from a June 13, 2003, taped conversation Savio had with an insurance company over a claim she put in for allegedly stolen jewelry.

9. Savio’s Aug. 6, 2003, statement to the insurance company.

10. Savio’s divorce attorney, Harry Smith’s testimony that Stacy contacted him about divorcing Peterson shortly before she vanished.

11. Stacy’s friend, Scott Rossetto’s testimony that she told him Peterson coached her as an alibi witness in Savio’s death.

12. The Rev. Neil Schori’s testimony that Stacy told him Peterson returned home dressed completely in black and carrying a bag of women’s clothing in the early hours of Sunday morning. Stacy also told him Peterson coached her to provide his alibi.

13. Stacy’s Joliet Junior College classmate, Michael Miles’ testimony that Stacy told him before Savio’s 2004 death that Peterson wanted to kill his ex-wife but that Stacy talked him out of it.

So, if you want to support Drew Peterson, go nuts. But please don’t pretend that he’s not getting a fair deal legally. Hearsay evidence is evidence and there are no precedents being set here (scary or otherwise).  Peterson has the benefit of a six-man legal team all working hard to make sure that Peterson gets a fair shake–something most defendants can only dream about.

Forfeiture By Wrongdoing: An Evidence Concept, by Leonard Birdsong
History of the Hearsay Rule
Hearsay in United States law

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20 thoughts on “Drew Peterson trial and hearsay evidence. What you need to know.

  1. Lisa Stebic Missing five years now:

    “It never gets any better- it’s actually worse than any movie or program. Every moment Lisa is missed. Sleep brings nightmares and daily life remains empty. Possibly the worse addition is that Lisa’s children aren’t able to be in our lives and we aren’t able to be in theirs. How does one totally remove a mother and her family from his own children?

    “To attempt a life that is worthy, I can only hold Lisa’s memory in the most beautiful light. A light that shines glorious colors and has a unique brightness throughout everyone she touched in her shortened life. This comes from her pure joy and positive energy that radiates within us. Especially within Lisa’s children, Lexi and Zac.

    “Our family will always be devastated by our loss, but we remain hopeful for justice.”


  2. If only someone would go to the police and tell them something that helps end the mystery of what happened to Lisa Stebic. This has also gone on way too long. Someone knows something, and her family should know, once and for all, what happened to her!

  3. As a follow up to the discovery of the human remains along I-55 and LaGrange a few weeks ago, the Patch editor (Darien) who wrote the story will be following up with the morgue. He said he was told it’d take about four weeks or more, but he’d be checking with them in the coming week or so.

    I mention this so that if anyone has been looking for an update, there’s still no word on who the poor soul is.

  4. I couln’t agree more when you mention that people are having a knee jerk reaction to the hearsay issue in this case. As you also mentioned, Peterson was given special consideration that went above and beyond what should have been afforded him!

    Personally, I’m sick and tired of the overused phrase that the SA has no evidence against Peterson. What exactly do these same knee jerk participants want? Film and commentary? Is it not going to be enough, given all of the circumstantial evidence against this guy, the means, motive, false alibi, planting of staged clothing, etc., at the scene, the trampling of the evidence on purpose, the questionable will, among other things, to even consider that this schmuck intentionally harmed Kathleen Savio?

    That’s sad. It’s sad that he could possibly get away with his actions and go on to live happily ever after, when even those that “think” he did it won’t budge off of the “there is no evidence” and “hearsay sucks” bull.

    Come to think of it, he was getting away with it, until he reared his ugly head again and became embroiled in the muck of Stacy’s mysterious disappearance!

  5. Isn’t it something, Rescue? It’s as if all the other evidence has disappeared from the public’s mind simply because the hearsay evidence became a matter of contention.

    There are two men who are going to testify at trial about Peterson asking for a hit on Kathleen Savio. Not hearsay – first person testimony.

  6. There’s plenty of evidence, IMO. Maybe even some we haven’t heard about. Maybe his cell phone records will put him in places he should not have been, or he wasn’t in places he should have been. Funny, cell phone pings seem to be relevant and useful in other cases. What, is he special? If a jury is going to act reasonably and intelligently, they’re going to consider all that is presented to them, and disregard what they don’t believe to be credible. This goofy nonsense that we hear, ad nauseam, there is no evidence; hearsay is wrong, is very stale. But, it really stems from the fact that those that repeat this over and over are only repeating what they hear in the media, which is bs that usually originates with Brodsk. So I guess it’s good to remember that a jury will be the ones who have Peterson’s future in their hands, not the armchair quarterbacks. Brodsky spent these past four years using the media and the public to try his case. Now, when it counts, he’s not the one doing it. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? Did all that white noise pay off?

  7. Another issue that makes me cringe are those that say that Peterson is going to become a millionaire someday after he sues Will County for… false arrest, violation of his rights…. IDK. So many law office shingles have been hung out due to this Peterson case, it’s hard to keep it all straight.

    We’ll see……

  8. Don’t forget the red alibi folder with the carefully preserved receipt for donuts and a trip to the Shedd Aquarium. Why would you save receipts for nondescript weekend activities…unless you thought you might need to produce an alibi for a particular date.

  9. There have been quite a few comments on various blogs and boards from those that admit that while they think Peterson is a creep, a louse and he probably killed Kathleen, what’s being done to him now by detaining him and delaying his trial is wrong and violating his Constitutional rights. Bullcrap! He’s got an array of attorneys with decades of experience, he’s been given opportunities at all of the court levels to present motions to argue his various defenses, and most of all, there is no mass conspiracy to screw him over as though he were some high fallutin’ political pawn in which to further others’ careers. He’s nothing but a conniving, washed up, local ex-police sergeant who has some major explaining to do in order to clear his name and already-crappy reputation if he’s going to get out of jail and move on. If he does get off of this charge, maybe the fate of Stacy Peterson, and those consequences of her disappearance, will come back to haunt him.

  10. Thanks for saying that Rescue. Leave it to the conspiracy nuts to finally eke out some niche support for the murder defendant. Peterson’s PR shift from “Prankster Drew” to “Poor Drew” might be the most nauseating makeover I’ve ever had to stomach.

    People should reserve their pity for those who really deserve it. Like maybe the women who were killed at the hands of a greedy, controlling husband. There are those who would judge Stacy even, because of what she knew about Drew’s crimes and never reported. But if they are truly defenders of the constitution they should filling up the comment threads with outcry about her murder. What happened to her constitutional rights when someone took it upon himself to be her judge, jury and executioner? Drew Peterson is receiving the full benefit of the law. If his crack legal team couldn’t get him a speedy trial or home arrest, there must have been some very good reasons for it.

  11. People who want to rail against hearsay should be mindful of this:

    The fact that Drew Peterson, although divorced, remarried and with a new child continuously broke into and entered his ex-wife’s house to remove items that he wanted.

    This is a man who planted GPS devices and bugs in order to track the women in his life, who hacked garage door openers, and had friends do surveillance while he broke and entered.

    Shouldn’t a jury hear about these instances, these facts? If the state wants to prove to the jury that Kathleen was murdered by Drew Peterson, then they’ll need to show that he could enter her house unbidden.

    Who knew about these instances, told friends, wrote about it to the state’s attorney and reported it to her insurance company? Kathleen Savio. Kathleen Savio, who can’t testify about it because she’s dead. Unfortunately this is all out-of-court testimony and Savio can’t be cross examined and that’s what makes it hearsay. It’s hearsay evidence and it damn well should be heard at trial.

  12. If Drew Peterson and his defense can show, without Stacy’s worthless alibi, that he was at all times in his house during the relevant hours leading up to and surrounding Kathleen Savio’s death, then it’s pretty much over. The problem is, it is not likely they can show this to be the case. Short of him being photographed by a security camera at some location in the area, certainly his cell phone could be used to pinpoint where he was. See, he could save his own ass by letting his records show where he was. Or wasn’t!

    Also, the jury would have to be convinced that KS died accidently in order to acquit Peterson. Most likely, they would have to believe that all of the bizarre circumstances leading up to that point rule out anyone murdering her, let alone her ex-husband. I don’t think that is possible. There are just too many pieces to that puzzle to reasonably believe she slipped and fell. Not an easy slip and fall, but one so violent that most of her body was badly damaged by severe, deep bruising, and then there’s the bleeding gash on the back of her head. There’s no simple bathroom scene to rely on either. First there were no clothes, either dirty or clean, no towels and no rugs. Nothing was overturned, and the walls and floor were pristine. Not what you’d expect after a violent fall that led to a near instant death. They’d have to disregardl that there’s court testimony by eye witnesses that items appeared in pictures that weren’t there when Kathleen Savio was first discovered. There’s testimony that the crime scene technician immediately declared it an accident, and didn’t bother to look further. There’s testimony from the lead detective that it was his first homicide, and he let the CSI run the scene.

    Kathleen Savio hated her ex-husband and feared for her life at his hands. Even putting that aside and not allowing that into the trial, there’s an ER record that he beat her in the past, and she tried to create a fortress to keep him out of her house. Even her bedroom! She had deadbolt locks on the bedroom door. Why on heaven’s earth she would leave a will just laying around that was financially beneficial to the one person she hated the most is beyond reason. It doesn’t make sense that a woman who was anticipating being murdered by her ex took a late night bath but neglected to arm the house alarm or lock the house up tight before doing so.

    The jury would also have to believe that an experienced, seasoned law enforcement officer, a supervisor on top of it, would pussy foot around and line up neighbors to enter a possible dangerous situation by calling it a simple reaction of avoiding having his ex-wife accuse him of something by entering her house. Never mind that he could have, and should have, called 911 like reasonable, intelligent people do when looking for a well being check on a family member.

    These are only the tip of the iceberg. He told a fellow LE officer he’d be better off with Kathleen Savio dead, and he attempted to get someone to kill her for money.

    I only hope that there are others that will come forward with additional information, and that his house of cards will come crashing down on him for his lies, his deceit and his conniving.

  13. He didn’t even contact law enforcement when he decided to break into her house that night. He instead called a locksmith that the Bolingbrook PD sometimes worked with. Tthis man arrived, opened the door and didn’t bill him.

  14. “Why on heaven’s earth she would leave a will just laying around that was financially beneficial to the one person she hated the most is beyond reason”

    Didn’t he also made the bizarre statement to Kathleens sister that the will was found under the floorboards ?

    As if that is where you would normally place a will, so no one knows where it is (!!), but Drew would be the person to look under the floorboards just in case someone placed a will there …….

  15. Just saw it reported on Fox News/Chicago that CNN is attempting to ask the court for permission to place a camera in the courtroom for Drew Peterson’s trial.

    First, a judge has to be appointed before this request can even be considered.

  16. Does anyone know when (Date Wise) when Drew Peterson goes to trial? Also will it be broad cast on live tv and if so what channel? I’ve been following the case since 2007 when Stacy went missing. I read all the books on the case some are in his favor others Stacy and some don’t go either way but rather let you decide personally, I believe he is guilty as sin.I know this sounds dumb but twice a year, every year I light a candle one for when she went missing and other for her birthday. I just feel so bad for her family specially for her sister Cassandra……..Also I was just wondering if anyone heard this rumor ( please don’t think I’m trying to be mean cause I’m not) but a friend of mine who is a police officer that has help out on the case said there is some edeventes that Stacy may had help Drew to kill Kathleen?? But anyways if anyone can please let me know when it all starts that would be great

  17. 1.) No trial date yet. And there’s no judge assigned to the case since Judge White retired.

    2.) CNN has asked for permission to televise trial but no word yet on if that will happen. Some districts are part of a program testing out allowing cameras in trial courts but I haven’t heard that Will County is allowing it yet.

    3.) Rumors are rumors. We don’t entertain them here since they only invite speculation and in some cases (like this one) cast aspersions upon people who aren’t around to defend themselves.
    We like to be considerate of the families of the victims and mindful of the pain they are already going through. We aren’t interested in adding to it.

    4.) We definitely will keep the blog updated with news about the upcoming trial. Stay tuned…

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