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Doctor Testifies At Peterson Trial About Conflicting Savio Autopsies

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Updated 08/16/12 – 4:36 p.m.

JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) — For a second day, the focus in the Drew Peterson murder trial has been the two autopsies that came to different conclusions about Kathleen Savio’s death, and the judge has had to tell the lawyers to stop bickering in front of jurors.

WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports forensic pathologist Dr. Larry Blum continued testifying about his 2007 autopsy that ruled Savio’s death was a homicide, and explaining why he reached a different conclusion than another pathologist, who ruled her death an accident three years earlier.

Savio’s body was found in a dry bathtub on March 1, 2004. Initially, her death was ruled an accidental drowning, but her body was exhumed and Blum reclassified her death as a homicide after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, vanished.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

As the defense began cross-examining Blum on Thursday, they tried to create doubt in the jury’s mind about how Savio died, pointing a spotlight at the two differing autopsies.

Blum has testified, based on his autopsy, Savio’s death was a homicide. He said a gash on the back of her head and several bruises on the front of her body could not have been the result of a fall in the tub. He explained someone falling accidentally wouldn’t have suffered injuries on both the front and back of their body.

“A fall to the back of the head would not produce those types of injuries to the front of the body,” Blum said.

Blum also noted Savio had no bruises or injuries to her arms that would indicate she tried to stop herself from falling.

He also pointed to the lack of drugs or alcohol in her system, saying adults don’t drown in bathtubs unless they are intoxicated, or have physical maladies that would incapacitate them.

But defense attorneys have said three pathologists they hired all said the injuries could have resulted from a fatal slip and fall in the tub.

Blum acknowledged the first pathologist who performed an autopsy – and ruled her death an accident – was well-regarded professionally. Blum also acknowledged he relied a great deal on Dr. Bryan Mitchell’s autopsy report in performing a second autopsy in 2007, although he reached a different conclusion. Mitchell has since passed away.

The lawyers seemed a bit testy on Thursday, arguing about repeated objections that forced the jury in and out of the courtroom a number of times.

“I think Mr. Glasgow is in a bad mood today. Maybe he read the paper,” defense attorney Joel Brodsky said, apparently referring to a Chicago Sun-Times editorial criticizing the prosecution and Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, in particular, for repeatedly venturing into subjects the judge has barred from the case.

Brodsky acknowledged all of the objections are probably weighing on the jury.

“I have a really good suggestion on how to speed up the case. I think the state should just quit trying to introduce inadmissible and illegal evidence, and that will speed up the case” he said. “You’ll notice that the case goes very smoothly when we’re on. There’s no objections. We don’t try to do anything improper.”

Criminal defense attorney Kathleen Zellner, who has been observing the trial, said jurors do not like objections during a trial.

“They feel that you’re hiding evidence, that you’re not being straight-forward,” Zellner said. “I think it’s been extremely tedious. I’ve not really been involved or observed a trial where there have been so many objections.”

On Wednesday, Blum’s testimony brought a fresh rebuke from Will County Judge Edward Burmila, directed at prosecutors.

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.

Burmila angrily told 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.

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.

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