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UPDATED: 8/27/2012 – 4:40 p.m.
JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) – Drew Peterson’s defense attorneys were set to begin presenting their case on Monday, after the judge denied a request to acquit the former Bolingbrook police officer on charges he killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
Peterson’s lawyers had asked for a directed verdict after prosecutors rested their case Monday morning – asking the judge himself to find Peterson not guilty before the case was even sent to the jury.
Judge Edward Burmila denied the motion, saying it’s possible a reasonable juror could find Peterson guilty based on what has been presented so far, although the evidence presented is “in conflict.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports
Such requests for a judge to acquit a defendant before a case goes to the jury are rarely granted.
Peterson’s lawyers said they plan to call 10 witnesses to the stand.
Prosecutors have presented no physical evidence linking Peterson to Savio’s death, have presented no witnesses who saw Peterson kill Savio or saw him at the crime scene at the time of Savio’s death, and have relied largely on hearsay evidence that is normally barred from criminal trials.
Defense attorneys hoped to show the prosecution has presented no evidence proving Peterson killed Savio.
Their first witness was Mary Pontarelli, a neighbor of Savio’s who had previously testified for the prosecution, about finding Savio’s body in March 2004.
Under questioning by the defense team, Pontarelli acknowledged she never saw Peterson hit Savio, or even raise his voice at her.
Pontarelli said she believes if Savio were attacked, “she would protect herself. She’s tough. She wouldn’t let someone hit her without hitting back.”
Defense attorneys have argued the lack of defensive wounds on Savio’s body confirms their assertion Savio’s death was an accident.
Savio’s body was found in her bathtub in 2004. Her death was initially ruled an accident. The former Bolingbrook police sergeant was charged with her murder after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007. A second autopsy performed on Savio after Stacy’s disappearance ruled Savio’s death was a homicide.
Before the defense began presenting its case, the judge read a letter written by Savio, in which she said she had been in fear for her life from Drew Peterson. The letter described an incident in which Savio said Peterson put a knife to her throat. She said she thought she was about to die.
Defense attorney Joel Brodsky said he expects the defense to take two days to present its case. That could mean jurors could begin deliberating by the end of the week.
The jurors, who have coordinated their outfits for several days of the trial, were all wearing sports jerseys or T-shirts on Monday, including Chicago Bears, Blackhawks and White Sox gear – even some for Augustana College. Burmila noted, to an eruption of laughter from the courtroom, that not one juror was wearing any Cubs gear.
Defense attorney Joe Lopez said they’ve advised Peterson not to take the stand in his own defense, as that could open the door for evidence that has previously been barred.
“Legally, it’s a very, very delicate place to be in, walking on egg shells,” Lopez said. “As much as he wants to get on that stand, we advised against it, because we don’t want to open the door for all the other evidence.”