Hearsay evidence to be aired in Drew Peterson’s “mini trial”

Drew Peterson and the Scheme Team on their way to court

On January 19, 2010 a hearing is scheduled to air the hearsay testimony that may be admitted in Drew Peterson’s trial for the murder of his ex-wife, Kathleen Savio. This “trial before the trial” will be important since so much of the evidence for the prosecution is expected to be circumstantial. This hearing will also be the first time the judge has heard the hearsay testimony that could be admitted under Public Act 095-1004, which makes an exception for hearsay from witnesses who were murdered in order to keep them from testifying. Statements from Savio, her friends and relatives, and a pastor who received the confidences of Peterson’s third wife (missing since October 2007 and presumed dead), could all play a big part in convincing a jury of Peterson’s guilt.

We asked Illinois attorney, Karen Conti of Adamski & Conti LLC, for her take on the upcoming hearing. This is what she had to say:

Karen Conti

We are pretty much on uncharted grounds. This law is new so I am not aware of any such hearing that has ever been conducted. The way the law reads, it seems that the judge here must find that there is a preponderance of evidence that Peterson’s actions silenced Kathleen and whether the hearsay is otherwise reliable. This is a much less rigorous burden than beyond a reasonable doubt. It is used at civil trials and means that if it is more probably true than not true that Peterson killed Kathleen, the burden is met. It seems the prosecution would also have to show that Stacy’s disappearance was caused by Drew in order to use her words which were spoken to the pastor. If allowed in, Stacy’s words would be very compelling to prove that Peterson killed Kathleen as I believe they include Drew’s admission that he killed her in the bathtub after returning home from her house with bloody clothing on. As to how the hearing works, I do not know. It would have to include the prosecution putting on witnesses and allowing Peterson’s lawyers to cross examine them.

This will give Peterson’s lawyers a real advantage at trial in that they will get to hear what the witnesses are going to say ahead of time. There will be a court reporter present and if the witness deviates from that testimony at trial, he can use the prior testimony to impeach.

I am certain that the jury in the full trial will not get to hear that the judge made a ruling that there was a preponderance of evidence that Peterson killed Stacy or Kathleen. The jury will only get to hear the hearsay testimony and will probably know that there was a prior proceeding that caused some of the witnesses to have testified previously.

This hearing will go a long way toward revealing whether the prosecution has good evidence to prove Peterson’s guilt in that they must put on all evidence that is persuasive. They cannot hold anything back because the admission of hearsay testimony at trial is crucial and will probably be the most compelling evidence.

Many thanks as always to Karen for taking the time to help us out!

Greg Adamski and Karen Conti host their own legal talk show, Legally Speaking, on WGN Radio 720 each Sunday from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. They also presented a mock trial of Drew Peterson last Spring which resulted in a hung jury.

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