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Pathologist testifies why he believes death of Drew Peterson’s third wife was homicide

By Steve Schmadeke, Matthew Walberg and Stacy St. Clair, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — As jurors furiously took notes, a state-hired pathologist explained Thursday why he believed the bathtub drowning of Drew Peterson’s third wife was a homicide.

Dr. Larry Blum said Kathleen Savio’s position in her Bolingbrook, Ill., 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 critical 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 prosecutors’ 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 found 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 was originally treated as an accident, prosecutors face the unusual burden of not only tying Peterson to her death but also convincing jurors she was murdered.

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

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

He also testified there were no contusions 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 left 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 or not 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.

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