Legal Blog

Hearsay Rulings Critical in Drew Peterson Trial

August 13, 2012

The trial of Drew Peterson, a former Bolingbrook, Illinois police sergeant charged with the murder of his 3rd wife Kathleen Savio, continues this week.

Throughout the first eight days of the trial, the prosecution has taken full advantage of a pretrial appellate court ruling permitting them to introduce hearsay statements made by Savio as well as Peterson’s 4th wife, Stacy Peterson, who disappeared in 2007 and is presumed to be dead. Illinois Rule of Evidence 804(b)(5) creates a hearsay exception for “a statement offered against a party that wrongfully caused — or acquiesced in wrongfully causing — the declarant’s unavailability as a witness.”

Jurors heard testimony from Savio’s friend, Kristin Anderson, that Savio once told her that Peterson said “I could kill you and make it look like an accident.” Savio’s sister, Anna Doman, testified that Savio told her that Peterson said she was not going to get any of his police pension or custody of their children. Perhaps the most powerful testimony came from Mary Parks, another friend of Savio’s, who testified that she saw marks around Savio’s neck about a year before her death. Parks claimed Savio told her that Peterson “said he could kill her, make her disappear” and that he grabbed her around the neck and asked, “Why don’t you just die?”

Although the appellate court ruled that these statements may be introduced under an exception to the hearsay rule, it did not mandate their admission. The Court emphasized that “…[w]e do not mean to suggest, however, that the circuit court is required to admit those eight statements during the trial. Rather, we merely hold that the statements are admissible under Rule of Evidence 804(b)(5) and should be admitted under that rule unless the circuit court finds they are otherwise inadmissible.”

On cross examination of the various witnesses, the defense attorneys have been questioning why, after seeing and hearing what allegedly occurred before Savio’s death, they did not alert authorities. Additionally, inconsistencies in the witnesses’ statements to the police department and the state attorney general’s office have been scrutinized by the defense.

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