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Savio’s injuries not consistent with bathtub fall, expert testifies in Peterson trial

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

CHICAGO — The head injury Kathleen Savio apparently suffered in her bathtub wouldn’t have knocked her out, a state-hired expert testified Tuesday, and other bruising found on her body was of a severity typically only seen in car accidents.

Jurors in the Drew Peterson murder trial on Tuesday heard testimony from Dr. Mary Case, a pathology professor and chief medical examiner of St. Louis County, Mo., who was on the witness stand as a state-paid private consultant.

Prosecutors are still working to convince jurors that the 2004 drowning death of Savio, Peterson’s third wife, was a murder. Savio’s death in her Bolingbrook, Ill., bathtub was initially treated as an accident.

That changed when Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared in 2007. Savio’s body was exhumed and two new autopsies were performed. Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, was charged with Savio’s murder three years ago.

Jurors took notes as Case testified that it was “very unusual” to find a horizontal laceration on the back of Savio’s head when a bathtub fall would typically cause a vertical laceration.

She testified that a single fall from a standing position would not have generated enough force to knock Savio unconscious or account for three bruises near Savio’s hip.

“I don’t see anything in that tub that would cause that head injury,” Case testified. She also said an abrasion found on Savio’s backside couldn’t have come from the bathtub.

Prosecutors believe Peterson held Savio in a chokehold until she was unconscious and then drowned her in her bathtub. He then allegedly struck her on the back of her head, possibly with his police baton, to make it look like an accident.

Also Tuesday, prosecutors succeeded in their fight to let jurors hear testimony from Jeff Pachter, a former cable contractor co-worker whom Peterson allegedly offered $25,000 to find someone to kill Savio in 2003.

Judge Edward Burmila said he would allow the testimony about Peterson’s alleged attempt to have his wife murdered because it is possible evidence of intent in this trial.

The prosecution, however, cannot argue later that Peterson tried to put a hit on Savio, only that Pachter’s testimony showed Peterson wanted her dead, Burmila said.

Pachter previously testified during a pretrial hearing that Peterson told him he wanted Savio “taken care of” because she knew a secret that could cost him his job on the Bolingbrook police force.

But Pachter testified he didn’t take Peterson’s $25,000 offer seriously, even though he owed a bookie $1,000 at the time. Peterson drove him past the Red Lobster restaurant where Savio worked, Pachter testified, but didn’t give him her name or any other information about her.

On Tuesday, prosecutors continued to struggle in the courtroom. Burmila issued a corrective statement to jurors and told them to disregard testimony after small missteps by State’s Attorney James Glasgow.

“We have another instance where … the witness gets up and says something and the state says, ‘Well jeez, I didn’t think she was going to say that,’ ” an annoyed Burmila said.

There were so many objections, sidebars with the judge and oral arguments that jurors heard only about 40 minutes of testimony Tuesday morning.

The entire day was taken up with Case’s testimony.

Burmila said that, due to what he’d previously called the “glacial pace” of the trial, he was adding an extra day of testimony on Monday. So far, testimony has been heard Tuesdays through Fridays with Burmila hearing his regular court call on Mondays.

Prosecutors plan to call Illinois State Police investigator Bryan Falat, who raised questions about how the original Savio death investigation was handled.

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