Three years after he was charged with murder in the death of his third wife, former Illinois police officer Drew Peterson gets his day in court Tuesday as opening statements kick off his trial on first-degree murder charges.
Peterson, 58, is charged with killing Kathleen Savio in 2004 and using his crime-fighting skills to make the death look like an accident. Peterson is also a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, in 2007, though he’s never been charged in that case.
The Peterson case has been the fodder of tabloid journalists for years, especially on cable television -- combining the elements of a mystery and the sensationalism of charges against a former cop with a history of former wives. The case also inspired a national television movie.
The investigation into Savio’s death had problems, so there’s little physical evidence, creating a special difficulty for the prosecution; the case will have to rely on circumstantial evidence instead.
In his opening statement in the courtroom in Joliet, Ill., prosecutor James Glasgow told jurors that Peterson, a former police officer in Bolingbroke, killed Savio, in 2004 and made the death appear to be an accident. Savio’s body was found in a dry bathtub in the couple’s home. The death was initially ruled to be accidental by a local coroner’s jury.
After Peterson’s fourth wife disappeared in 2007, Savio’s body was exhumed and a former medical examiner hired by the family said that she had died of drowning after a struggle. The state’s medical team eventually said the death was a homicide.
Stacy Peterson disappeared on Oct. 28, 2007. Scott Peterson has maintained that she told him she was leaving him for another man, but officials have searched Peterson’s property and have said they consider him a suspect in that case as well.
The current trial pits two aggressive legal teams. The defense is headed by Joel Brodsky, who’s expected in his opening to describe Savio’s death as a tragic accident.
The fierceness of the legal battle became clear during the opening statements.
Judge Edward Burmila briefly sent jurors from the courtroom while attorneys argued whether the prosecution’s mention of an alleged offer by Peterson of $25,000 presumably to kill his third wife warranted a mistrial. The judge had the transcript read back and ruled against a mistrial because there was never a specific mention of the money paying for a murder.
Burmila said he would instruct jurors to disregard the statement, but he allowed the trial to continue.