Judge In Peterson Trial: Prosecution’s ‘Disrespect For The Court Is Shocking’
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Updated 08/15/12 – 7:14 p.m.
JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) — Just hours after defense attorneys for Drew Peterson withdrew a motion for a mistrial over a mistake by prosecutors, testimony was halted again Wednesday and the judge angrily chided prosecutors after another witness discussed evidence barred from the trial, saying “the disrespect for the court is shocking.”
The latest mistake came when forensic pathologist Dr. Larry Blum testified about a 2007 autopsy on Kathleen Savio’s body, after it was exhumed following the disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy.
After her death in 2004, a different pathologist ruled Savio’s death an accidental drowning, but when Stacy Peterson disappeared in 2007, authorities reopened the Savio case, exhumed her body, and a new autopsy by Blum ruled her death a homicide. Drew Peterson is charged with killing Savio.
While testifying Wednesday afternoon, Blum began telling jurors he examined the tub where Savio’s body was found and climbed into it himself, prompting an objection from the defense team.
Will County Judge Edward Burmila angrily told Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow — who was questioning Blum — that he had barred any testimony about climbing into the tub.
Glasgow also drew an objection from the defense team during opening statements, when he began to tell the jury that a former co-worker of Peterson’s has said under oath that Peterson offered him $25,000 to hire a hitman to kill Savio. The judge told prosecutors they could not present any evidence from that co-worker during the trial.
Burmila has clearly become frustrated with the prosecution’s repeated slip-ups.
“It doesn’t appear that any orders I have entered in this case has the state paid attention to,” he said, referring to repeated instances of prosecutors or prosecution witnesses mentioning something the judge had barred from the trial.
Glasgow said he had warned Blum not to discuss getting into the tub.
However, the defense team decided against seeking a mistrial this time, instead asking for all of Blum’s testimony to be stricken from the record.
Defense attorney Ralph Meczyk said, “We accept that this was an innocent blurting out, but the harm has been done. It’s irrelevant that it was innocent. There has to be an appropriate sanction; an appropriate and reasonable sanction.”
Meczyk called the repeated errors by prosecutors “a cascading of missteps,” and said the only appropriate remedy would be to strike all of Blum’s testimony.
“This cannot go on and on and on and on in a trial,” he said. “A judge’s ruling has to mean something. … The cumulative effect is devastating.”
Glasgow said, “I was standing up here for an hour and a half and I was getting a little woozy. … I apologize for any confusion.”
An exasperated Burmila quoted another judge who sat on the same bench – and the person the courtroom is named after.
“There are very few people in this courtroom who remember the person it’s named after, Judge Angelo Pistilli. … When he’d get frustrated, he’d say, ‘I guess there’s nothing left for me to do except blow my brains out.’ I never quite understood that until today,” Burmila said. “Yesterday it was a brain cramp. Today’s its wooziness. The impression is that this court is toothless. … The disrespect for the court is shocking.”
However, the judge denied the defense request to throw out all of Blum’s testimony, instead telling the jury to ignore the testimony about getting into the bathtub.
“You are to disregard it utterly. It is probative of nothing in this matter and it is stricken,” Burmila told jurors after he had them brought back into court.
The judge also warned prosecutors he did not want to have to continue dealing with instances of the prosecution or prosecution witnesses bringing up barred evidence or testimony.
Jury consultant Alan Tuerkheimer said the jury seems to be getting frustrated with the constant diversions from testimony, which are disrupting the flow of the trial. Jurors want to get through a trial as quickly as possible and get a clear story of the case, which is hard to do with all the disruptions over disputes about the prosecution’s errors.
“One of the things jurors say is a huge complaint about attorneys is that they’re repetitive and they waste their time, and that’s exactly what’s happening here,” he said.
However, Tuerkheimer said there shouldn’t be much long-term impact.
“In deliberations, once they get the whole story, the prosecution’s witnesses, the defense witnesses, when they get in deliberations and look at the charges, they’ll go with that,” Tuerkheimer said. “So, I don’t think it’s going to impact the verdict decisions in this case, but for now, there’s definitely some frustration setting in on the jurors.”
Tuerkheimer said the judge should seriously consider warning the prosecutors, if there is one more instance of a witness or prosecutor saying something he has barred from being mentioned, he will consider throwing the case out.
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports all the starting and stopping to deal with objections in the case appeared to be wearing on the jurors, who were taken in and out of the courtroom half a dozen times before lunch on Wednesday to deal with disputes over testimony and evidence.
At least once, a juror let out an audible sigh after being told they would have to leave the courtroom, and several jurors were seen frowning or grimacing at the repeated need to go in and out.
The latest mistake came just hours after the defense team dropped its bid for a mistrial, following prosecutor Kathleen Patton’s mistake of asking another witness, a former Bolingbrook police officer, whether Savio ever considered seeking an order of protection against Peterson. Patton asked that question Tuesday, just hours after Burmila ruled she could not ask the officer about that subject.
Initially, defense attorneys sought a mistrial with prejudice — meaning Peterson could not be retried — but Wednesday morning dropped their motion for a mistrial and instead settled for an instruction that the jury ignore the question about an order of protection, along with an instruction advising the jury Savio never sought an order of protection against Peterson.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, it was Peterson himself who apparently wanted the trial to go on.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports
“Drew Peterson wants this jury to decide the case. He does not want to hide behind legal technicalities… We don’t want any more low blows,” said Peterson defense attorney Joe Lopez. “They (prosecutors keep running over his constitutional rights. He doesn’t’ want to give the state a practice run. This is the real issue.”
Burmila asked Peterson, who was standing up, if he agreed with attorneys to withdraw motion. Peterson agreed.
The judge then accepted the defense motion.
Later Wednesday, while Blum was on the stand, jurors saw new and gruesome autopsy photos of Savio, when he testified about bruising, lacerations, and blood patterns he spotted on Savio’s body.
The prosecution pointed out dried blood on Savio’s face, and Blum testified that the “pattern would be impossible if her face were down in the water at the time.”
That fits in with a prosecution theory that the three-inch gash on Savio’s head was inflicted by Peterson after he drowned Savio, in order to make her death look like an accident.
Blum also testified about bruises to Savio’s body, which he said were new at the time of her death, and were caused by a “great amount of force.”
Also Wednesday, the jury for the first time heard Savio’s written words read aloud in court. They came from a police report she filed in July 2002.
She wrote that she was “knocked down on the stairs by my husband Drew Peterson,” who was armed with a knife.
She then wrote that he held her at bay for more than three hours.
Savio wrote that she got tired of the abuse from Peterson and told him, “do what you came for, kill me. He said, ‘Where do you want it?’ I said, ‘In the head.’ He said turn your head. He then said he wouldn’t ever be able to hurt me.”
Defense attorneys argue the entire incident was made up by Savio after she was notified Peterson had filed battery charges against her.