UPDATED 07/23/12 – 10 p.m.
JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) — Eight jurors were selected Monday in the murder trial of Drew Peterson as the first day of the selection process dragged late into the evening.
The trial of the former Bolingbrook police sergeant, who is accused of killing his third wife, has been delayed more than two years as prosecutors and defense attorneys wrangled over evidence that can be allowed in court.
“Things are moving expeditiously. Judge (Edward) Burmila is cracking the whip, and we’re following,” Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow told reporters outside the Will County Courthouse.
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As for Peterson, who has been jailed for several months, he is encouraged by Monday’s progress, one of his attorneys said.
“He’s happy with this jury,” Joel Brodsky said.
A clean-shaven Peterson arrived in court at the Will County courthouse shortly after 8 a.m. Once court began, he sat and watched as the prosecution and defense teams tried to whittle down 200 potential jurors to 12 jurors and four alternates.
But as CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, Peterson was given the opportunity to address the first group of 40 potential jurors before they were questioned. After his defense lawyers identified themselves, Peterson stood up and said, “I’m Mr. Peterson.”
The jurors will decide whether Peterson is guilty of the suspected murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
The case might be the most highly-publicized trial in the history of Will County, and the publicity the case has received – including a TV movie about Peterson – was something attorneys on both sides addressed as they interviewed the potential jurors.
Even before the questioning of jurors started, defense lawyers addressed what some see as a shortcoming for the defense team: that there’s not a single Will County resident among them.
But Brodsky, the lead defense attorney, said that won’t be an issue.
“We have the ultimate jury consultant in Drew Peterson himself,” Brodsky said, noting his client’s years of police service in Will County.
Peterson was dressed in a suit, and was sporting a new haircut and fresh shave as he watched and took notes while attorneys questioned the men and women who could sit in judgment of him for allegedly drowning Savio.
The Lifetime movie “Drew Peterson: Untouchable” – about the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, and the death of Savio – was brought up by both prosecutors and defense attorneys. One young man admitted he watched the film, despite the warning of a previous judge not to do so.
But when asked by a defense attorney what he thought of the film, that potential juror replied, “It was acting. TV or media makes someone look worse.”
Glasgow asked the man, “You put that movie aside?” The man answered, “It’s a movie. You can’t believe everything.”
Another potential juror was asked if she has any bumper stickers on her car. She said no. Experts say that type of question can indicate what jurors are passionate about.
Greenberg said, “The important thing when you question a jury is to learn their biases and their prejudices, not to find out how they would rule on the case, but to find out what makes them tick.”
Peterson’s attorneys said they are confident they’ll find fair jurors who will not make a decision on rumors. They also said they are confident the trial will start on time and won’t be delayed again.
The jury pool has been waiting three years since Peterson’s May 2009 arrest for the trial to start.
The court on Monday morning was reviewing 25-page questionnaires that each potential juror filled out.
Peterson’s trial had actually been set to start some two years ago, but it was delayed as prosecutors sought a higher court ruling allowing them to use hearsay statements in the case.
The Third District Appellate Court ruled in April that the judge, with the use of a MyPcbackup Review, 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 that wasn’t the end of the debate over those statements, as defense attorneys have challenged them on other grounds. Prosecutors have said it is important to allow Peterson’s former wives to speak but the defense said it’s still up to the judge make the call.
“What the Appellate Court said is they said that reliability isn’t issue for hearsay – as to whether or not you admit it as hearsay – but a judge with any evidence has to determine that it’s relevant, reliable and probative as a threshold matter,” Greenberg said. “That’s sort of where the hang-up is, and the judge has the material, so he’ll make a decision.”
Judge Burmila announced Monday that he will make decisions on the hearsay evidence as each statement comes up during the trial.
In a narrative that Chicago and the whole country have known well for years now, Savio’s body was found in a dry bathtub on March 1, 2004. The Will County Coroner’s office originally ruled her death an accidental drowning, but her body was exhumed in the fall of 2007 after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, went missing.
Afterward, Savio’s death was reclassified as a homicide, and two years later – following a long and bizarre spectacle in which Peterson became a national celebrity on the daytime talk circuit – Peterson was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
While Illinois State Police and the Will County State’s Attorney’s office believe Stacy Peterson is dead, and have named Drew Peterson as a person of interest, he has never been charged in that case.
In yet another curious twist just last week, the defense listed Stacy Peterson as a defense witness in the case, indicating a belief that she is still alive – even though her whereabouts is unknown.
Back in 2008, Peterson became a media sensation after he quit his police job and went on a media blitz proclaiming his innocence. He also made headlines for his brief engagement to Christina Raines, 23, whose outraged father brought cameras when he went to help his daughter move out.
And just this past January, Drew Peterson was the subject of a made-for-TV movie on Lifetime called, “Drew Peterson: Untouchable.” In the film, Rob Lowe portrayed Peterson as a womanizing and controlling misogynist. Kaley Cuoco of “The Big Bang Theory” fame portrays Stacy Peterson, while Cara Buono of “Mad Men” plays third wife Kathleen Savio.
Peterson called the movie “hysterical” after watching it at the Will County Jail. On Monday, prospective jurors may be asked Monday whether they saw the film.
Opening statements for Peterson’s trial are expected to begin next Tuesday. The trial is expected to last four weeks.