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Judge denies Drew Peterson a new murder trial

4:04 PM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
In this May 8, 2009 file photo, former Bolingbrook, Ill., police sergeant Drew Peterson arrives at the Will County Courthouse in Joliet, Ill., for his arraignment on charges of first-degree murder in the 2004 death of his former wife Kathleen Savio, who was found in an empty bathtub at home. (Photo: M. Spencer Green, AP)
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JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - A judge on Thursday denied Drew Peterson a new murder trial in the death of the former suburban Chicago police officer's third wife.

After the ruling, Judge Edward Burmila moved on to Peterson's sentencing hearing. The 59-year-old faces up to 60 years in prison for the 2004 death of Kathleen Savio.

Peterson's current legal team had argued for a new trial on grounds his former lead attorney, Joel Bodsky, botched the case.

Jurors convicted Peterson in September in the death of Savio, whose body was found in a dry bathtub with a gash on her head. Peterson is also a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, but hasn't been charged in that case.

Peterson's current legal team had argued that Brodsky failed to adequately defend the former Bolingbrook police sergeant. Brodsky stepped down from the defense team in November as the lawyerly strife worsened.

Among the accusations from Steve Greenberg, who was on the trial team and still represents Peterson, is that Brodsky forced Peterson to stage a pretrial media blitz that harmed the ex-officer's cause.

Greenberg maintained that Brodsky made a decision on his own to call divorce lawyer Harry Smith as witness, a move that badly backfired on the defense. Brodsky has insisted the entire legal team agreed on trial strategy.

Smith told jurors that Stacy Peterson asked him just before she vanished about whether she could squeeze her husband for more money if she threatened to tell police he murder Savio three years earlier.

Brodsky wanted Smith to blunt Stacy Peterson's credibility. Instead, he succeeded in stressing she sincerely thought her husband killed Savio. Several jurors said his testimony persuaded them to convict Peterson.

The discord between Greenberg and Brodsky spilled into the hearing on the retrial request. When Greenberg called Brodsky to the witness stand on Tuesday, Brodsky momentarily refused. But the judge said he had to testify.

At one point during the three-day hearing, the judge asked Greenberg why he and other attorneys hadn't objected in court during last year's trial about what they now say was a glaring mistake by Brodsky.

Greenberg responded by telling the judge that Brodsky's management of Peterson's six-person legal team "was a dictatorship." Sitting in an overflow room, Brodsky groaned and shook his head. He later told a reporter that Greenberg's comments were a "fiction."

The acrimony contrasted with the image of the band of lawyers during the trial, appearing before the media each day wearing dark sunglasses and making jokes. Several times, they said Stacy Peterson could show up any day to take the stand.

Drew Peterson's 2012 trial was the first in Illinois history where prosecutors built their case on hearsay thanks in part to a new law, dubbed "Drew's Law," tailored to the case. The hearsay, prosecutors said, let his wives "speak from their graves" through family and friends.

The hearsay - any information reported by a witness not based on the witness' direct knowledge - included a friend who said Savio told her Peterson once put a knife to her throat and warned her, "I could kill you and make it look like an accident."

Before his 2009 arrest, the glib, cocky Peterson seemed to taunt authorities, suggesting a "Win a Date With Drew Contest" and then, after his arrest, "Win a Conjugal Visit With Drew Contest." More recently, his story inspired a TV movie starring Rob Lowe.

The case began with a gruesome discovery. A neighbor came across Savio's body March 1, 2004. She was face down in her dry bathtub, her thick, black hair soaked in blood and a 2-inch gash was on the back of her head.

The drowning death of the 40-year-old aspiring nurse was initially deemed an accident. After Peterson's fourth wife, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson, vanished in 2007, Savio's body was exhumed, re-examined and her death reclassified as a homicide.

Drew Peterson had divorced Savio a year before her death. His motive for killing her, prosecutors said, was fear that a pending settlement would wipe him out financially.

Fascination nationwide with the case arose from speculation that Peterson sought to parlay three decades of law enforcement expertise into getting away with murder.


Michael Tarm

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