Updated 08/08/12 – 10:09 p.m.
JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) — The judge in the Drew Peterson murder trial said Wednesday he is not bound by rulings by the previous judge regarding hearsay evidence in the case, and is allowing previously barred testimony that Peterson allegedly threatened to kill Kathleen Savio and made it look like an accident.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser and CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli report the previous judge in the case, Stephen White, had barred prosecutors from allowing Savio’s friend, Kristin Anderson, to testify that Savio told her Peterson said, “I could kill you and make it look like an accident.”
Anderson, who lived in Savio’s home for a couple months in 2003, first testified about that alleged incident at a hearing in 2010.
Prosecutors said Anderson would also testify Savio told her Peterson broke into her home dressed in black and threatened her.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser Reports
The defense said Judge White found the statements to be unreliable, but Burmila said he is not bound at all by White’s rulings on what hearsay statements can be presented to jurors, opening the door for more than a dozen other previously-barred statements to be used at trial.
Asked if the defense team was worried more previously barred hearsay evidence would be allowed at trial, defense attorney Joel Brodsky said, “It’s always been a worry, I mean hearsay’s always been a worry in this case.”
Before the judge’s ruling, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow called Burmila’s decision about whether to allow Anderson’s testimony “an incredibly critical ruling in this case.”
He shouted, “This evidence should have life.”
Burmila agreed and Anderson took the stand late Wednesday afternoon.
Anderson broke down into tears after prosecutors asked her what Savio told her in October 2003, while at Savio’s home. After the judge briefly sent the jury out of the courtroom while Anderson composed herself, she testified Savio told her Peterson had broken into her home, dressed in SWAT gear, put a knife to her throat, and told her “I could kill you, and make it look like an accident.”
On cross-examination, defense attorney Joe Lopez ripped into Anderson, questioning why she would stay in Savio’s home, if she really believed what Savio said about Peterson’s threats.
“She said someone could come in the house and kill her and her family and you stayed there?” Lopez asked.
“I stayed there, and I was a good friend to her,” Anderson responded.
Prosecutors had spent much of the day up until then continuing to try to make their case that the initial investigation into Savio’s death was botched.
The Illinois State Police sergeant who led the investigation of Savio’s death in 2004 told the jury her death was treated as an accident from the start.
Peterson is accused of killing Savio — his third wife — in her bathtub on March 1, 2004. Although an initial autopsy ruled her death was an accidental drowning, the case was reopened after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, went missing in 2007, and a new autopsy ruled Savio’s death was a homicide.
Illinois State Police Sgt. Patrick Collins, who was the lead investigator into Savio’s death in 2004, was on the stand for most of the day Wednesday at Drew Peterson’s murder trial.
He testified that, from the get-go, the talk was of accident after Savio was found dead in her bathtub.
After he responded to Savio’s home on the night her body was found, when he saw a large bloody gash on Savio’s head, Collins said he asked a colleague, “‘How could that have happened?’ He said it was probably from a slip in the tub.”
Outside court, Savio’s half-brother, Nick Savio, said that’s absurd.
“You don’t land in the bathtub — on an accidental drowning — in the fetal position,” he said.
Collins also testified Peterson, a Bolingbrook police sergeant at the time, asked to sit in on Collins’ interview with Stacy Peterson as a professional courtesy when Collins talked to her about Savio’s death during the investigation.
“Drew asked me personally. Stacy was real shaken, was nervous about the interview, and asked if he could sit in on the interview as a professional courtesy,” Collins said.
He explained Stacy appeared shaken up over having to take responsibility for Savio’s children, after having just had a baby herself.
Collins said he allowed Drew to sit in on the interview with Stacy, something he’d never done in a case before, and has not done since.
He testified that Drew appeared to fidget and attempt to coach Stacy as she was questioned about her husband’s whereabouts the night Kathy drowned.
“Drew was sitting very close to Stacy. He had his hand on her leg, his arm around her. I guess he was there giving moral support,” Collins said.
Pamela Bosco, a spokeswoman for Stacy Peterson’s family, called Collins’ decision to allow Drew to sit in on Stacy’s interview “dumbfounding.”
“To have him sitting up beside her was insane. It was the worst possible thing you could do for an interview like that. I mean, it’s just dumbfounding,” Bosco said
She said she believes Peterson was trying to exercise “complete control” over both Stacy and the situation.
Collins testified that they wrapped up the interview after Stacy became upset and started to cry.
Nick Savio said he believes the failure to properly investigate Savio’s death eventually cost Stacy Peterson her life, as well.
“I wholeheartedly believe she still would have been here, had people listened to my sister’s cries,” he said.
At the start of the day, Will County Judge Edward Burmila denied a defense motion to throw out some of Tuesday’s testimony.
During yesterday’s proceedings, one of Drew Peterson’s former colleagues testified Peterson once told him life would be easier if his third wife was dead.
Several weeks later, Kathleen Savio was found dead in a bathtub.
Also Tuesday, Will County Deputy Coroner Matt Vanover testified that he believed the circumstances of Savio’s death were suspicious, after she was found dead in a dry bathtub in her home.
“There were no signs of a fall or struggle in the bathroom, so I don’t see how she could have drowned. If a person had fallen, I am under the opinion the bottles would have gone flying. It was clean,” he said.
Vanover also testified he didn’t believe Savio would have ended up curled up in the tub if she had fallen.
“It’s a small tub, and the body was positioned in such a way that if a person would have fell, I don’t believe they would have came to rest that way,” he said.
However, Vanover testified that he didn’t follow the homicide-suspicious death protocol with Savio’s body because the state police investigator at the scene, Illinois State Police Trooper Robert Deel, didn’t believe it was necessary because he saw nothing suggesting it was a murder.