Drew Peterson moved one step closer to facing trial for his third wife’s murder Thursday when an Illinois appellate court ruled that prosecutors can use statements made by the victim and Peterson’s still-missing fourth wife against him.
Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, was found dead in her bathtub on March 1, 2004 and a coroner’s jury concluded that her cause of death was accidental drowning. The case received new scrutiny after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished in October 2007.
Savio’s body was exhumed and new autopsies classified her death as a homicide. In May 2009, Peterson was charged with Savio’s murder. His trial was put on hold the following year after a judge ruled that several statements allegedly made by Savio before her death and by Stacy Peterson before her disappearance were inadmissible as evidence.
The Illinois legislature passed a law in 2008 that allows courts to consider hearsay evidence from unavailable witnesses if prosecutors can prove that the witness was killed to prevent their testimony. Prosecutors had hoped to use 11 statements by Savio and three by Stacy as evidence but the trial judge determined that eight of them did not meet statutory standards of reliability.
In Thursday’s opinion, the Third District Appellate Court overturned that decision and stated that all 14 statements could be admitted, remanding the case to the circuit court for further proceedings. Because the appellate briefs were filed under seal, the opinion does not detail the content of the contested statements.
Peterson’s attorneys could appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, but attorney Steve Greenberg did not indicate to the Chicago Tribune Thursday whether they intend to do so. Following the ruling, Will County State Attorney James Glasgow issued a statement saying that he now hopes to start Peterson's trial in late spring or early summer.
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