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On Tuesday, Judge Edward Burmila ruled that the bathtub in which Drew Peterson‘s third wife drowned can not be brought into court at his trial for her murder.
State police had removed the tub in 2008 after Kathleen Savio‘s body was exhumed and a second autopsy found her death to be a homicide. Prosecutors expected it would be a key piece of evidence at trial time. “The bathtub is now essentially the murder weapon,” Assistant State’s Attorney John Connor argued in court, to no avail. The defense successfully argued that there was little value in jurors viewing the tub out of the context of its bathroom setting.
I’m not sure why the judge is keeping the tub out of the courtroom. Obviously, there is evidentiary value in jurors seeing the pace where the victim of a suspicious death was found.There’s nothing unusual about bringing bathtubs into courtrooms, either. It happened just February of this year, during the murder trial of Maryland man in which the victim was found in her bathtub. The tub was brought in to demonstrate where a hand print was found in proximity to where the victim’s head was positioned in the tub.
In the famous Ohio case of Ryan Widmer, a tub was also brought into the courtroom during trial by the prosecution to show that Sarah Widmer was forcibly drowned by her husband. Ryan Widmer was convicted of her murder and remains in prison after being tried three times. Widmer claimed that his wife simply fell asleep during a bath.
It’s possible that by barring the tub, the judge in Peterson’s case is trying to avoid courtroom theatrics like those that occurred during closing arguments in the trial of John Wayne Gacy, when the prosecutor tossed the photos of 22 victims through Gacy’s actual crawl space door which had been brought into the courtroom for that purpose. Burmila stated on Tuesday, “As far as the tub being dramatically brought in–that’s not going to happen under any set of circumstances,”
Although barring it from the courtroom, Judge Burmila did cede that jurors could possibly view the tub if it was re-installed in the bathroom of the house on Pheasant Chase Drive where Kathleen Savio died, so that it would be seen in context.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the homeowners at 392 Pheasant Chase Drive have yet to replace the tub in their bathroom as they have a separate shower in that room which they have been using. It’s possible that they would be amenable to having the tub put back into place for viewing by the jurors.Family members, friends and neighbors who have been in that bathroom have expressed disbelief that Savio could have hit her head, lost consciousness and then settled into the position she was found in the tub and these opinions were formed by their knowledge of the specifics of that room and tub. At least two forensic pathologists have concurred.
Considering that during the bungled investigation which took place after Kathleen’s death, so little evidence was actually gathered from the room, one would think that a field trip to view the scene would have a great deal of evidentiary value.
Let the jurors visit the scene, see the bathtub, touch it, even get in the tub if they want to. It’s only fair.