Drew Peterson joked and talked with his attorneys this morning as he put on a black and gray striped tie at the Joliet courthouse, a stark contrast to the tension before one of the highest profile trials in Will County history.
Dozens of journalists from local and national outlets gathered at the courthouse, and the courtroom was packed as opening statements began shortly before 10 a.m.
Peterson, 58, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. He is also the lone suspect but has not been charged in the disappearance of his 23-year-old fourth wife, Stacy, who vanished in 2007. The saga made national headlines and prompted a Lifetime TV movie.
Judge Edward Burmila heard motions this morning about what could be said during the opening statements. Peterson attorney Steve Greenberg argued that prosecutors should not be able to tell jurors there will be testimony during the trial that shows the bathroom where Kathleen Savio’s body was found was a “staged crime scene,” that Savio told others she was afraid of Peterson, or even that Peterson would benefit financially from Savio’s death.
“How can they say these things in opening statements when they have no evidence,” Greenberg said.
Burmila said it will be up to the defense to point out flaws in the prosecution’s case.
State’s Attorney James Glasgow will make the opening statement for the prosecution, with Joel Brodsky leading off for the defense.
Once the openings conclude, the prosecution is expected to call Savio’s neighbors Mary and Tom Pontarelli and a locksmith as some of their first witnesses.
Mary Pontarelli discovered Savio’s body on March 1, 2004, and ran screaming from the bathroom into Savio’s adjoining bedroom, she testified at a pretrial hearing.
“I threw myself down and started hitting her bed with my fists,” Pontarelli testified in 2010.
The two women had been close ever since Pontarelli brought a poinsettia to her new next-door neighbor in Bolingbrook just before Christmas in 1999. Their families went on vacation and spent holidays together. And Savio shared her fears that Peterson would kill her, Pontarelli testified previously.
The prosecution also plans to call locksmith Robert Akin Jr. to testify today. Witnesses testified during a pretrial hearing that Savio, fearful of Peterson, always kept her front door and screen door locked when she was gone or inside her home. But Akin testified at a hearing in 2010 that only the front doorknob -- one of at least three locks on the two doors -- was locked when he was called to her home the night Savio’s body was discovered.
Attorneys estimate the trial will last 2-4 weeks.