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Updated 04/12/12 – 4:30 p.m.
JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) – An Illinois appeals court panel has handed a victory to prosecutors in the Drew Peterson murder case, reversing a Will County judge’s ruling that eight hearsay statements can’t be used against Peterson at trial because they are unreliable.
The trial judge in Peterson’s case had ruled that prosecutors could not use eight of 14 statements made by Peterson’s third wife Kathleen Savio, and his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, at the trial for Savio’s murder, ruling the statements were unreliable.
But the Third District Appellate Court ruled Wednesday that the judge could not bar those statements from being used at trial solely on their reliability, stating that they can now be used against Peterson at trial.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports
“After considering the merits of the State’s case at the direction of the Illinois Supreme Court, the Third District Appellate Court today agreed that eight statements previously excluded by the trial court are admissible under the Illinois Rules of Evidence,” said Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow. “The case has been remanded to the Circuit Court for further proceedings. The State anticipates a trial to begin later this spring or early this summer.”
However, the court left the door open for defense attorneys to challenge the hearsay statements on other grounds.
Defense attorney Joel Brodsky said he’s far from defeated.
“The appellate court also says, and I quote, ‘We 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,’” Brodsky said.
He said he has five other arguments that could knock out the statements, including that use of hearsay evidence violates Peterson’s right to due process.
The defense could also take their case to the Illinois Supreme Court before trial.
Peterson, 57, is accused with killing Savio in 2004 to prevent her from testifying in a divorce proceeding. Her death was originally ruled an accidental drowning, but authorities reopened the case in 2007 after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, went missing.
Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, is the main suspect in Stacy’s disappearance. Prosecutors have argued Peterson killed Stacy to prevent her from testifying against him about Savio’s murder. He has not been charged in Stacy’s disappearance or death, however.
He has denied any wrongdoing in both cases.
Prosecutors want to use statements that Savio and Stacy Peterson made about Drew Peterson at his murder trial, which has been on hold for nearly two years while prosecutors sought to bring in the statements from Savio and Stacy Peterson.
In the statements, both women speak about feeling threatened by Drew Peterson.
In 2010, a Will County judge ruled prosecutors could use six hearsay statements against Peterson, but threw out eight others. The appeals court ruling puts those statements back in play.
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow has said the statements are crucial to the case against Peterson and pushed for a new Illinois state law that allows the use of second-hand testimony at trial under certain circumstances.
There is little physical evidence in the case, other than autopsy results that held Savio’s death was a homicide, and there are no witnesses who can testify to seeing Peterson kill Savio, leaving virtually only the second-hand testimony that has been debated in court.
Stacy Peterson’s best friend, Pam Bosco, told CBS 2 she is pleased by the court decision if it allows comments from Stacy and Kathleen Savio.
“This is a way for them to speak at the trial and hopefully find justice for what happened to them,” she says.