Could Peterson Trial Be Delayed Again Over Hearsay Debate?

JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) — Days before jury selection is to begin in Drew Peterson’s murder trial, it is still unclear if prosecutors will be able to use the victim’s statements.

If the judge in the case rules they cannot, the trial could be stalled yet again.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports

As WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports, the comments by Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, that he threatened to kill her and said he could make her death look like an accident are at the heart of the case against the former Bolingbrook police sergeant.

But in court Wednesday, Will County Judge Edward Burmila said he may still bar the statements, and would not tell prosecutors when he will rule.

Jury selection begins on Monday, and the Chicago Sun-Times reports if Burmila bars the statements, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow may file an appeal.

If that happens, the trial will be stalled again.

Peterson is accused of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in the bathtub of her home in 2004. Her death was initially ruled an accidental drowning, but after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007, authorities reopened the Savio case and a new autopsy determined her death was a homicide.

Prosecutors have alleged Drew Peterson killed Savio, his third wife, to prevent her from testifying against him in divorce proceedings. He’s also a suspect in Stacy’s disappearance, but has not been charged. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have sought to use 14 statements made by Savio and Peterson’s missing fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, against him at trial. A trial judge previously allowed six of them, but tossed out eight of those statements.

Prosecutors have said a recent Illinois Appellate Court ruling means the eight hearsay statements are fair game, the Sun-Times reports.

The Third District Appellate Court ruled in April 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.

But Burmila said a 2010 ruling by Will County Judge Stephen White said the dubious reliability of some of the statements could still make them inadmissible, the Sun-Times reported.

Burmila got angry with prosecutors when they asked him to make a ruling on the admissibility before jury selection begins, the Sun-Times reported. He chided prosecutors for bringing up the issue so late, and told them they do not get to dictate when he makes a ruling, the newspaper reported.

The issue of hearsay statements was what prevented Peterson’s trial from beginning as scheduled two years ago.

He had been set to go on trial in July 2010, but the trial was postponed the day before jury selection was to begin due to an appeal by prosecutors, then as now seeking to allow hearsay statements.

Peterson’s attorneys asked to have him released on bond last year as the pre-trial litigation went on, but the motion was denied.

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