Drew Peterson trial updates: Peterson said Savio overdosed

Continual coverage of the trial of Drew Peterson for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.



5 p.m. Done until Tuesday

Judge Edward Burmila said he will rule later on whether to allow testimony about Drew Peterson allegedly trying to hire a hitman to kill Kathleen Savio.

The trial continues Tuesday with the start of the fourth week of testimony.



4:25 p.m. Alleged hitman testimony at issue

Jennifer Schoon's testimony has concluded and jurors have been sent home.

Attorneys now are arguing about whether Judge Edward Burmila should allow testimony from a man who claims Drew Peterson offered him $25,000 to find a hitman to kill his ex-wife Kathleen Savio.

Testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday.



3:55 p.m. Peterson said Savio overdosed

A former girlfriend of Drew Peterson’s son Stephen told jurors about Peterson's description of his ex-wife's death not long after he discovered her body.

Jennifer Schoon testified she was living in Peterson's home with her boyfriend when Peterson described how Kathleen Savio had died.

"She had drowned in the bathtub and hit her head and there was no water in the bathtub because there as a leak in the tub," Schoon said. "I was told that there were antidepressants on the counter."

"Who told you?" asked Assistant State’s Atty John Connor.

"Drew Peterson did," Schoon said.

"Did he indicate she had possibly overdosed on these medications?" Conner asked.

"Yes, that she may have taken them," Schoon said.

Schoon testified that Peterson also told her there was blood in the bathtub from Savio hitting her head.



3:20 p.m. Peterson called death 'drug-related'

After Scott Rossetto was barred from testifying, prosecutors called a retired claims adjuster who handled the insurance company investigation into Kathleen Savio’s death.

Savio had a $1 million life insurance policy that was paid out to her two children.

Joseph Steadman, formerly a senior claims adjuster for Old Republic Life Insurance, testified about a phone conversation he had with Drew Peterson on March 15, 2004, not long after Savio’s death.

"He told me she was found in a bathtub…drug-related," Steadman testified. "I believe he used the word ‘drowned.’" 

Steadman said Peterson told him he was a Bolingbrook police officer, was the first one on the scene and had discovered his ex-wife’s body. Peterson told him he was not part of the police investigation into her death.



2:55 p.m. Stacy's friend barred from testifying

Judge Edward Burmila barred Scott Rossetto's testimony, saying that the state's error regarding the dates, and the fact that Rossetto testified at the 2010 hearsay hearing that the conversation with Stacy Peterson took place on Oct. 26, 2007 — a day when he was at work and could not have spoken with her —made his testimony unreliable.

"Call your next witness," Burmila said and asked the court bailiff to bring in the jury.

A second later, he told the bailiff to wait, as the defense lodged a motion to bar the next witness, an insurance investigator, from testifying about Kathleen Savio's life insurance policy.

Rosetto testified in 2010 that Stacy Peterson told him that Drew Peterson had coaxed her into providing a false alibi for the weekend of Savio’s death. 

At the heart of the defense’s objection was an email prosecutors sent to the defense on Wednesday night that said Rossetto's testimony would be consistent with a police report and that his conversation took place on Oct. 22, 2007. 

In prior testimony, Rossetto said it took place on Oct. 25 or 26, 2007. 

Glasgow argued that it was nothing more than a transcriber’s error and that his assistant, John Connor, would have caught the mistake if he had not gone home earlier that day with a high fever. 

But defense attorney Steve Greenberg countered that the different dates show Rossetto's testimony was unreliable and he should not be allowed to testify any further.



2:05 p.m. Prosecutors frustrate judge again

Scott Rossetto testified he met Stacy Peterson at his home on Oct. 25, 2007, prompting an objection from the defense, which claimed they were told the conversation took place five days earlier and at a Denny's restaurant.

Prosecutors admitted confusion about the date of the conversation, but said the basic contents of what was said between Rossetto and Stacy Peterson was unchanged.

But a perturbed Judge Edward Burmila said the changing dates went to the believability of the witness and said either prosecutors would have to stipulate that they messed up on the dates, or allow the defense to call Assistant State's Attorney John Connor as a witness to talk about the mix-up, meaning Connor, one of the most senior prosecutors, would be barred from working on the trial.

Burmila gave the state a short recess to decide which option to pursue, shaking his head in apparent disgust as he left the bench.

 



1:50 p.m. Stacy Peterson's friend on witness stand

The trial resumed this afternoon with testimony from Scott Rossetto, a friend of Stacy Peterson who exchanged racy text messages with her prior to her disappearance. Rossetto is an Army captain who lives in Germany.

He testified only four minutes before the jury was removed from the courtroom to allow the attorneys to argue over a defense objection.



11:55 a.m. Lunch break

Court is in recess for lunch.



11:40 a.m. Judge: No gasps from gallery please

After Dr. Gene Neri’s testimony concluded, defense lawyer Joel Brodsky asked the judge to tell onlookers in the gallery not to react noticeably to testimony or questions by the attorneys.

"We don't want any demonstration or expression to influence the jury one way or the other," he said.

Brodsky's request was prompted by repeated gasps of outrage by a few court watchers who apparently object to certain questions posed by Drew Peterson’s attorneys.

The judge agreed, saying the he understands that there are times when something humorous is said, prompting laughter, but that the gallery must not appear to be taking sides.

"Yesterday, there was an audible gasp from the audience in response to a question Mr. (Ralph) Meczyk asked that they obviously disapproved of," Burmila said.

He said if it happened again, he may have offending onlookers barred from the courtroom.

"I understand people are emotional about this case, but you have to be able to keep your emotions in check," Burmila said.



11 a.m. Doctor questioned about Zoloft

Defense attorney Darryl Goldberg asked Dr. Gene Neri whether on of the side effects of Zoloft was that patients may bruise more easily, an apparent reference to the bruises found on Savio at the time of her death.

"I suppose it's mentioned, but I've never seen it," Neri said.

"They put down everything (in warning labels) — it's written by lawyers," he said, prompting laughter in the courtroom. "They cover everything that could possibly happen."



10:45 a.m. Savio fell down stairs in 1999

On cross, Dr. Gene Neri — who began treating Kathleen Savio in April 1999 — recalled that Savio fell down the stairs in October of that same year.

He also acknowledged that at the time of her death, he had not seen her for treatment for more than two years and had no idea what her medical condition was at the time.

Defense attorney Darryl Golderg pressed the doctor on whether her malady could have returned at the time of her death due to the stressof her divorce, studies, and a quarrel with her boyfriend Steve Maniaci in which he told her he did not want to marry her.

"I'd expect all those symptoms to slide back," Neri said.



10:30 a.m. Savio showed improvement

Dr. Gene Neri said that over the period of time he treated Kathleen Savio, she saw marked improvement.

When asked whether Savio sought more drug prescriptions or asked for higher dosages, Neri said no.

"Quite the opposite — she was always trying to cut down on her medication," he said.



10:05 a.m. Five potential witnesses today

Prosecutors said they have as many as five potential witnesses today. Through the first three days of testimony this week, only three witnesses have testified. The pace of the trial has appeared to frustrate some jurors, who have rolled their eyes or groaned when told to leave the courtroom again and again while attorneys argue motions.

Dr. Gene Neri is already on the witness stand this morning. Other possible witnesses today include: Stacy Peterson’s friend Scott Rossetto; Jennifer Schoon, the ex-girlfriend of Drew Peterson’s son, Stephen; and Illinois State Police Investigator Bryan Falat.

Rossetto, who traded raunchy text messages with Stacy shortly before she disappeared in 2007, testified at a pretrial hearing that Drew Peterson coaxed her into providing a false alibi for the weekend of Savio's death.

Schoon was living in Drew Peterson’s home at the time of Savio’s death, Schoon’s attorney said in 2008.

Falat testified at a hearing in 2010 that Drew and Stacy Peterson appeared to be lying in interviews with state police after Savio's death. But Falat said his concerns were ignored.

"Quite honestly, I was sort of disgusted with" how the investigation was handled, Falat said in 2010.

Stacy Peterson appeared "scripted" and often looked to Drew Peterson when she was unsure of an answer, Falat testified previously.



9:40 a.m. Savio was less likely to fall

Dr. Gene Neri said people who suffer from the same malady as Kathleen Savio are less likely to fall.

"Actually, although she felt unsteady, the chances of falling are less than the average person because someone who feels unsteady is going to be very careful," Neri said. "If there's one thing as adults we all hate, it's the thought of falling"

Neri said he prescribed Savio an anti anxiety medication and an anti depression medication to allow Savio to sleep soundly in order to raise the seritonin levels in her body.



9:35 a.m. Savio 'horribly sleep-deprived'

The first witness today was Dr. Gene Neri, a neurologist who treated Kathleen Savio from 1999 to 2002 for pain in her neck and shoulders, dizziness and numbness in her extremities.

Neri said he later treated Savio for cervical vertigo, a condition caused by stress.

"The root of the problem in her case, basically, was not sleeping," Neri said. "She was horribly sleep deprived."

Her serotonin levels dropped and her adrenaline levels rose, causing her to suffer pain and nervousness, Neri said.



6:45 a.m. Peterson trial enters 12th day

Testimony continues today in Drew Peterson's murder trial, a day after a  state-hired pathologist explained why he believed the bathtub drowning of Peterson's third wife was a homicide.

Dr. Larry Blum said Kathleen Savio's position in her Bolingbrook tub, her injuries and the lack of drugs or alcohol in her system helped him conclude she was murdered. Yet he acknowledged that finding was contradicted by the respected Will County pathologist who performed the original autopsy in 2004.

Blum, who spent two days on the witness stand being questioned by State's Attorney James Glasgow, is a crucial witness for prosecutors in the high-profile murder case built on circumstantial and hearsay evidence. A defense attorney attacked Blum's interpretation of the evidence, and the pathologist acknowledged that DNA supporting the prosecution's theory was never found.

Glasgow said outside the courthouse that the testimony was "a real turning point."

"We had a real strong day today — very important forensic evidence came in," he said.

But prosecutors also suffered a potential blow to their case when the judge barred them from implying that Peterson tried to stage the death scene by placing a blue bath towel on the tub shortly after her body was discovered.

The neighbors who discovered Savio's body testified that it was odd there were no towels in the bathroom, but a blue towel was later photographed on the edge of the tub. Judge Edward Burmila barred prosecutors from implying that Peterson must have left the towel because every other witness called denied placing it there.

Burmila said it would violate Peterson's constitutional right to remain silent by allowing prosecutors to place blame on him for not testifying about the towel. The ruling lopped off an argument prosecutors have spent days laying the groundwork for — that Peterson tried to correct mistakes he made in staging the scene.

Because Savio's death originally was treated as an accident, prosecutors face the unusual burden of not only tying Peterson to her death but convincing jurors she was murdered.

Prosecutors said they believe that former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Peterson placed Savio in a chokehold until she was unconscious, drowned her, then struck her on the back of the head, possibly with his police baton, to make her death look like an accident.

Frequently turning to look at jurors, Blum testified that a single fall in the bathtub could not have caused the distribution of injuries on Savio's body — bruises on the front of her body and on her hip but also a large gash on the back of her head.

He also testified that there were no bruises on her upper arms and back, which would have been expected if she fell backward.

The position of Savio's body, with her head down and her right foot pressed against the tub's edge, also belied an accidental fall, Blum testified. And he told jurors that healthy 40-year-old women don't drown in bathtubs unless impaired by the effects of drugs, disease or drinking.

Savio's death was at first treated as an accident. But after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, vanished in 2007, Savio's body was exhumed and Blum performed a second autopsy.

Her death was then classified as a homicide, and Peterson was charged two years later with killing her.

Prosecutors also believe Peterson killed Stacy, but he has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.

Defense attorney Ralph Meczyk sparred with Blum over his interpretation of slides that Blum testified showed deep bruising on Savio's hip area and questioned the pathologist about why no evidence supporting prosecutors' theory was found under Savio's fingernails.

"You would expect that during a struggle, there would be … DNA or tissue underneath the fingernails, correct?" Meczyk asked.

"Yes, if the victim scratched the assailant, there may be — correct," Blum replied.

"There was no male DNA identified — is that correct?" Meczyk asked.

"That's correct," Blum replied.

Blum also testified he doesn't know for sure whether the three bruises on Savio's hip area came from injuries related to her death in the bathtub.

"Dr Blum, you don't know if she banged into a drawer, do you?" Meczyk asked.

"I do not," Blum said.

"You don't know if (the bruising came) during the course of having … at some point having aggressive or rough sexual intercourse, do you?" Meczyk asked, referring to Savio having sex with her boyfriend the Friday night before she was found dead.

"I suppose that's within the realm of possibility — I don't know, let's put it that way," Blum replied.

Burmila found himself playing traffic cop Thursday as Glasgow and defense attorney Meczyk at times sparred directly in front of jurors.

"Objection to the term 'adversary,'" Glasgow said in one exchange that began after Meczyk described him with that adjective.

"What, is he a friend?" Meczyk replied.

Burmila also took a moment to address a joking comment he made Wednesday. He had said that after being forced to deal with repeated attorney gaffes, he now understood how former Will County Judge Angelo Pistilli felt when Pistilli remarked that "there's nothing left to do but for me to blow my brains out."

"I have gotten so many emails and texts from people I know because of media reports (about my joke)," Burmila said to some laughter.

Burmila repeated that he was simply saying he understood why Pistilli felt that way. "I didn't want any of my family or my friends to worry — I'm not going to do that," he said.

sschmadeke@tribune.com

mwalberg@tribune.com

sstclair@tribune.com

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