UPDATE: Key Evidence in the Drew Peterson Murder Trial Blocked by Judge
Area News: Judge Edward Burmilla rules that several allegations, including one in which Peterson allegedly tried to hire a hit man to kill his third wife, cannot be brought up in the trial.
Prosecutors lost out on some key evidence they want to use in their bid to convict Bolingbrook cop Drew Peterson on charges he murdered his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
Judge Edward Burmila ruled Tuesday—the trial's first day—that Peterson's attorneys won't have to defend him against allegations he offered a co-worker $25,000 to find a hit man to kill Savio, that he broke into the house Savio was living in by cutting a hole in a wall, or that he threw her to the ground and held her face down in the grass until the police arrived during a dispute in 2002.
Prosecutors failed to notify Peterson's defense team that they planned to use the hit man story as evidence. Braidwood man Jeffrey Pachter, who worked at a cable installation company with Peterson, was expected to testify that Peterson offered him $25,000 to find a hit man to kill Savio.
Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow nearly prompted Burmila to declare a mistrial when he brought up the hit man story during his opening arguments. Burmila decided against calling a mistrial despite arguments made by defense attorney Steve Greenberg that "You’ve got a jury in the box that heard the defendant offered money to somebody to kill his wife. What are you going to say—‘It was a big mistake?’ ”
Burmila also decided the jury should hear nothing about Peterson cutting a hole in a wall of Savio's home to gain entrance—which Peterson has admitted to doing, because he owned the home.
Peterson and Savio had lived together in the Bolingbrook house, but he moved out after she found out about his love affair with teenaged Stacy Peterson and their marriage broke down. Prosecutors contend Savio feared Peterson would kill her around the time her estranged husband happened to cut the hole in the wall, and pointed out that she was so scared that she had a neighbor install a deadbolt on her bedroom door.
Someone cut a hole in the bedroom door, as well, according to prosecutors, but Judge Burmila is not letting the jury know about that hole.
Greenberg was dismissive of the hole in the wall.
"Is that like, 'There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza dear Liza'? " he joked. "The hole has nothing to do with the case. You don't convict someone on dirt."
Prosecutors have also been deprived of telling the jury about the time Peterson hurled Savio down and held her there after she allegedly attacked Stacy, whose mysterious disappearance in October 2007 set the events in motion that led to Peterson's arrest on murder charges in May 2009.
Stacy remains missing. Peterson is the sole suspect in the Illinois State Police investigation of her disappearance. He has yet to be charged with harming her.
Savio was charged with battery, domestic battery, and visitation interference in connection with the May 2002 altercation. She was later found not guilty of all charges.
Burmila said it "doesn't matter if she was acquitted," and decided the jury shouldn't hear about it, even though defense attorney Joel Brodsky for some reason brought it up during his opening argument.
None of Peterson's friends or family attended the first day of his murder trial. Savio's father, Henry Savio, and stepmother, Marcia Savio, were in the gallery. So was Pam Bosco, the foster mother of Stacy's sister, Cassandra Cales.
After the hearing, Bosco said she found Burmila's decisions "very frustrating."
Only one witness took the stand Tuesday. Savio's next-door neighbor and close friend Mary Pontarelli testified about finding Savio drowned in her dry bathtub in March 2004 after Peterson asked her to go inside Savio's house and look for her.
During her testimony, Pontarelli gasped and let out a sob when she was shown a photo of Savio's naked body curled in her bloody bathtub. Drew Peterson stared up at the same photo when it was flashed onto a large courtroom screen. He showed no emotion.
Read More: Drew Peterson Coverage on Patch