By Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — Prosecutors in the Drew Peterson murder trial will attempt to clear the first hurdle in their case this week — convincing jurors that the former Bolingbrook, Ill., police sergeant’s third wife was murdered.
Kathleen Savio, 40, was found drowned in her Bolingbrook bathtub in 2004. A coroner’s jury ruled her death an accident, but her body was exhumed in 2007 not long after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, vanished. Prosecutors believe Peterson, 58, killed Stacy, but he has not been charged.
Peterson’s trial in Savio’s death is scheduled to resume Tuesday, the start of the third week of testimony in the case.
This week, prosecutors plan to call Dr. Larry Blum, a forensic pathologist from Rockford who has performed more than 9,000 autopsies, to testify about the 2007 Savio autopsy. Blum ruled that Savio’s death was a homicide based on the pattern of injuries he found on her body.
Another pathologist for the state, Dr. Michael Baden, did a third autopsy and came to the same conclusion. Peterson was charged with Savio’s murder two years after the autopsies.
The pathologist who performed an autopsy the day after Savio’s body was discovered died two years ago. Last week, a police officer testified at trial that Dr. Bryan Mitchell told him he thought Savio’s death should have been labeled as having an “undetermined” cause.
Defense attorneys have their own panel of expert pathologists who say Savio’s death was a household accident. Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen has testified previously that all of the injuries on Savio’s body could have been caused by a fall in her bathtub or in the normal course of her day.
Prosecutors have said they believe Peterson held his ex-wife in a sleeper hold until she lost consciousness and then held her head underwater in her bathtub until she drowned. He then struck her on the back of the head, perhaps with his police baton, to make her death look accidental.
Even if jurors believe Savio’s death was a murder, there is no physical evidence tying Peterson to it. Prosecutors are attempting to build a circumstantial case — Peterson and Savio were still fighting over the financial settlement in their divorce — and want to introduce hearsay statements on Savio’s behalf.
It remains to be seen what hearsay statements will be heard by jurors. Judge Edward Burmila opened the door to jurors hearing more hearsay in a ruling last week, but he also said he will decide which statements get in on a case-by-case basis.