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Drew Peterson trial updates: Son of Savio, Peterson to testify

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

Continual coverage of the trial of Drew Peterson for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

5 p.m. Defense doesn’t call Peterson’s son

The defense shifts gears and does not call Tom Peterson, son of Drew Peterson and Kathleen Savio, as its next witness. The next witness is an Illinois State Police investigator.

4:40 p.m. Son of Peterson, Savio to testify

Defense attorney Joel Brodsky said the next witness will be Tom Peterson, son of Drew Peterson and Kathleen Savio. Tom Peterson was valedictorian of his Bolingbrook High School class in 2011.

4:30 p.m. Judge delays hearing on Savio attorney

Judge Edward Burmila has delayed until Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. a hearing on whether Kathleen Savio’s divorce attorney Harry Smith can testify that Stacy Peterson called him in 2007 and asked if she could get more money out of Drew Peterson if she told police he had killed Savio.

The two sides are arguing over whether it is proper for defense attorneys to use Smith’s testimony to attack testimony from Pastor Neil Schori, who has testified that Stacy told him Peterson coached her to lie to state police about his alleged slaying of Savio.

Burmila has asked that the jury be brought back into the courtroom.

3:50 p.m. FBI agent testifies

Defense attorneys have called an FBI special agent to cast doubt on Bolingbrook Police Sgt. James Coughlin, who testified Peterson told him he’d be better off if Kathleen Savio was dead.

Special agent Joseph Basile testified that Coughlin told him in 2008 he saw Drew Peterson when he peeked into a courtroom where Peterson’s divorce from Savio was being heard.

That account conflicts with the version Coughlin was told police and testified to at trial. Couglin said the encounter took place in a courthouse hallway near the elevator.

But in both accounts, Coughlin heard Peterson say “My life would be much easier if she were dead” or words to that effect, according to Basile and past testimony.

3:35 p.m. Savio had $1 million life insurance policy

Joseph Steadman testified that in 1997 a $1 million insurance policy was taken out on Kathleen Savio’s life with Drew Peterson as the beneficiary.

The policy was changed in 2002 as part of the couple’s divorce with Peterson’s and Savio’s two boys named as the beneficiaries.

The defense has now called FBIspecial agent Joseph Basile, who was involved in the investigation into death of Kathleen Savio after Stacy Peterson disappeared in 2007, mostly interviewing Bolingbrook police officers.

2:55 p.m. Judge restricts testimony from witness

Judge Edward Burmila has restricted some of the testimony for witness Joseph Steadman, a retired insurance adjuster, who the defense plans to re-call to the stand.

Burmila said the issues Brodsky wanted to raise with Steadman were “completely collateral” and said Steadman would be limited in what he could talk about.

Before that, Brodksy withdrew his line of questioning of Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Bryan Falat after Burmila said, after a prosecution objection, that Brodsky was opening the door to allowing prosecutors to bring in evidence gleaned from the Stacy Peterson investigation.

“You’re the captain of the ship, you want to travel in that direction, you go right ahead,” Burmila told Brodsky.

Brodsky then withdrew his question asking Falat about notes he took while Stacy Peterson was interviewed after Kathleen Savio’s death.

2:25 p.m. Peterson’s ‘a funny guy’

Mary Pontarelli testified that Drew Peterson always seemed like a friendly person who loved to joke around.

“He’s a funny guy, he makes jokes about things, not in a mean way, a fun way,” she testified.

She said she never saw any injuries on Kathleen Savio, including on Savio’s neck in the fall of 2003.

Pontarelli also told jurors that her close friend was a fighter.

“She’s toughshe wouldn’t let someone hit her without hitting back,” she said.

2:10 p.m. Another jersey joke in courtroom

Defense attorneys have called their first witnessrecalling Kathleen Savio’s best friend and next-door neighbor Mary Pontarelli.

Defense attorney Steve Greenberg started out his questioning with a joke.

“If you had to wear a jersey today, what jersey would you be wearing?” he asked

“(White) Sox,” she responded.

“Instant credibility!” Greenberg said to laughter, a joking reference to Judge Edward Burmila’s love of the South Side team.

Many of the jurors have been wearing coordinated clothing to the trial and today are wearing sports jerseys or T-shirts. Burmila made a crack about the jury’s intelligence because none of them decided to wear a Cubs jersey.

12:40 p.m. Break for lunch

Judge Edward Burmila has called for a lunch break. The trial is scheduled to resume at 1:30 p.m.

11:50 a.m. Little reaction from Peterson

Drew Peterson sat at the defense table, tapping a pen on his left hand as the judge addressed the courtroom.

Judge Edward Burmila said that any conflicts in the evidence are issues for the jury to decide. He said that the state had presented enough evidence that a reasonable person could convict Peterson.

“If we distill down the state’s case, the jury could find on these facts that the defendant was guilty of this offense,” Burmila said. “The defendant’s motion for a directed verdict is denied.”

11:40 a.m. ‘There’s nothing here, judge’

Before the judge handed down his ruling denying a directed verdict, defense attorney Steven Greenberg argued that prosecutors had not proven Peterson is guilty.

“That’s why, with all due respect, this case has been so hodgepodge and scattered,” Greenberg said.

“They have no theory on how this happened. They’re just hoping that the jury or your honor will so dislike Drew Peterson, will so dislike their marriage, will think that Drew is that such a a complete — I won’t swear, but swear word omitted — that we should just presume he did it.

“It’s like they’re trying to nail a clump of jello to a tree and have it stick there. There’s nothing here, judge.”

11:30 a.m. Judge denies defense request for acquittal

Judge Edward Burmilla denied a request from the defense to hand down a directed verdict of not guilty.

The defense is expected to begin presenting its case.

11:20 a.m. ‘It’s the Jerry Springer effect’

Defense attorney Steve Greenberg gave his take on the witnesses who said Kathleen Savio told them of abuse and threats from Drew Peterson.

“I like to think it’s the Jerry Springer effect, where people like to come forward and get their 15 minutes of fame. I don’t know…. But what I do know is that these things they say happened, even taken in the light most favorable to the state, couldn’t have happened.”

Greenberg also mentioned a statement from last week by Judge Edward Burmila.

“Your honor said it last week, you said they haven’t shown he was in the house. They haven’t shown any evidence that he was in that house before the locksmith showed up. You said that last Friday, so what evidence can you point to in this case that says they’ve met the burden of proof in this trial?”

11:15 a.m. ‘How is it a staged scene?’

Defense attorney Steve Greenberg continued his argument for a directed verdict, saying Drew Peterson didn’t want to go into Kathleen Savio’s home because he didn’t want to get in trouble with her.

“When he checks that body, he says, ‘She’s dead, and what am I going to tell my kids?’ He is visibly upset.

“Not a single witness told you he put the (blue) towel there. So how is it a staged scene?

“Don’t you think that if Ms. Savio had all these habits of putting her hair up, that Mr. Peterson after 12 years of co-habitating with her, would know these things?

Greenberg then talked about the Rev. Neil Schori, who testified that Stacy Peterson told him at a coffee shop that she lied for Drew Peterson to police and saw him come home one night, dressed in black, with a bag of women’s clothing.

“Where is any evidence in this record from which you can conclude that it happened at night, as they (the state) want to say?”

“And I know the response to that would be, ‘Well there’s the statement from Neil Schori.’“

“Well, OK, first of all, where is any evidence as to what Drew would wear or not wear.

“It’s not specific as to date, it’s years and years later. We know that Stacy wanted a divorce by that time.”

Schori also testified that he brought another person, a prover, to the coffee shop the day he met with Stacy Peterson.

“If they had this other person there, where’s the prover to verify that they met? They have no evidence that Drew said he did anything or in fact that he did anything. And that one statement should not be enough to get them past their burden.”

11:10 a.m. No evidence to convict, defense says

Defense attorney Steve Greenberg responded and expanded on his argument for a directed verdict.

“There is a reason this (directed verdict) procedure exists,” he said, arguing that the judge has an obligation to acquit if there is no evidence of a crimeregardless of whether a jury is hearing the case.

“We didn’t hear anyone say that there were marks on her from being held underwater. We heard about bruising. We heard about abrasions.

“How did she get them? Was she attacked in the bedroom? I don’t know. Was she attacked downstairs? I don’t know. Did she get them from having sex with Steve Maniaci? I don’t know.

“We have no theory of what happened to this lady, no corpus dilecti of how she drowned.

“Not a single defensive wound on her bodynot one. Not a single injury to Mr. Peterson.

“There is absolutely nothing in this record to explain that somebody drowned her. Not a single witness got up on that stand and said she was involuntarily drowned.

“They (the state) don’t want to accept that it’s an accident, so they have to say it was a staged scene.”

11 a.m. State reiterates its case

The standard for a directed verdict is to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, Assistant State’s Attorney Chris Koch argued.

“When you take a look at the circumstantial evidence in this case, your honor is aware that a person can be convicted solely on circumstantial evidence.

“Evidence of the defendant’s motive, opportunity as well as his conduct before and after the death is relevant.

“So when you take a look at what the state has presented to the jury and the court, you have evidence of what Stacy Petersontold to Niel Schori, you have testimony that he may have been in that house that night.

“Came home with women’s clothing, went into washer with his clothing,

“That he worked with her for hours, and according to Stacy Peterson, she did in fact lie to the police.”

“It goes to explain her behavior during that interview (with the state police) where she was sobbing and where the defendant was sitting so close to her.”

Koch said all the medical evidence, the testimony from the forensic pathologists, demonstrate that Savio was the victim of a homicide.

“We believe circumstantial evidence show that the defendant did in fact perform the acts of drowning her and did so with the intent to commit a homicide,” Koch said.

10:55 a.m. Prosecution rests its case

The prosecution rests, and jury has been led out.

Defense attorney Steve Greenberg is not making a motion for directed verdict, asking the judge to rule the prosecution has not proven its case and Drew Peterson should be set free.

“They have not conclusively established that there was a homicide, or that the manner of death was homicide. In fact the evidence is there are differing opinions at this point. They have not provided any evidence as to the when, how or who as related to this particular incident or shown any evidence that it was not an accident after calling witness after witness after witness.”

The state is now responding.

10:45 a.m. Defense objects to judge reading letter

Immediately after the letter was read by the judge, the defense objected and the jury was led out of the courtroom.

The defense then argued that even though they were stipulating that the evidence existed and was admissible, they did not want the judge reading them to the jury, saying it’s the state’s evidence.

“If (Assistant State’s Attorney) Mr. (John) Connor gets up and reads it, the jury knows it’s coming from Mr. Connor,” defense attorney Steve Greenberg said. “If it’s coming from you, judge, the jury might look at it a little different…. I do not believe that the judge should be reading these stipulations.”

Judge Edward Burmila said he would explain to the jury that he was not expressing an opinion in the case, and said that it is the common practice in Will County for judges to read stipulations. Nonetheless, he agreed to require the state to read the rest of the stipulated agreements.

“I guess I can understand the point they’re (the defense) making,” Burmila said. “I’ll clear up the issue with (the Savio letter) and we’ll go from there.

When the jury returned, Burmila told them not to take anything from his reading of the Savio letter.

“The fact that a piece of evidence is a stipulation, does not mean the parties agree that it’s factually accurate,” he said. “The fact that I read the letter does not add or detract from it in any fashion.”

10:30 a.m. Judge cracks joke about Cubs

When the jury came in, clad in sports jerseys, Judge Edward Burmila joked about taking a photo of them, prompting laughter from the jury and gallery.

“The only reason to take this picture is to demonstrate that no one is unintelligent enough to wear a Cubs jersey,” the judge said, sparking more laughter and clapping.

With that, the judge began reading from a letter Kathleen Savio sent to the Will County state’s attorney’s office in 2002 regarding the alleged attack on her by Drew Peterson in July 2002, when he allegedly held her in her home for hours. The letter was read as part of an agreement, or stipulation, between both the defense and prosecution.

“’He asked me several times if I was afraid, and I started to panic,’“ Burmila read. “’He pulled out his knife which he kept on his leg. I thought I would never see my boys again. I told him to just end this craziness, and for some reason he pulled back.’“

9:45 a.m. Prosecutors plan to rest case today

The Drew Peterson trial resumed this morning with assurances from prosecutors that they intend to rest their case in chief today once they read a handful of stipulationsor agreements between both sidesabout certain testimony. The jury had not been brought into the courtroom yet. At the moment, both sides are haggling over what exhibits will be admitted and provided to the jury during deliberation.


6:35 a.m. Peterson defense could begin

Assuming the Drew Petersonprosecution rests today and the judge refuses to dismiss the murder chargetwo highly likely, but not guaranteed, scenarios in this legal circusthe former Bolingbrook police sergeant’s attorneys will launch a defense.

Over the next few days, they are expected to call pathologists and law enforcement officials to help bolster their assertion that Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, died after accidentally falling in her bathtub and drowning in 2004. Prosecutors contend he killed her after a bitter divorce in which they battled over his pension and child support payments.

Before Peterson’s lawyers call their first witness, they will ask Judge Edward Burmila to issue a directed verdict, a rare judiciary order in which the court would drop the charges against Peterson and set him free for the first time since his 2009 arrest because the state failed to prove its case. Peterson’s attorneys, however, did not seem to be banking on such a reprieve as they discussed potential testimony during the coming week.

Though the defense has promised to present a “slew of witnesses,” Peterson is not expected to be among them. His attorneys played coy on the subject last week, but sources close to those discussions acknowledge the defendant’s sarcastic demeanor would not play well with the jury, and his answers could make previously barred testimony admissible during the prosecution’s rebuttal.

“We want to keep the state guessing,” lead defense attorney Joel Brodsky said. “You know, the bastards that we are.”

Peterson has three pathologists on retainer, but only two are expected to testify that Savio may have accidentally drowned. The third, Dr. Daniel Spitz, had told the National Enquirerthat Savio’s death was most likely a homicide because “people don’t drown in bathtubs.” But then he was hired as a defense expert and changed his position.

Planting doubt about the circumstances of Savio’s death will be the defense team’s top priority, experts said. A coroner’s jury initially ruled it an accident, but the pathologist who handled the autopsy has since died.

“They need to hit hard the idea that this was even a homicide,” said Leonard L. Cavise, a law professor at DePaul University. “They’ve got to put a couple of people on the stand who are going to say … that this was an accident, or at the very least that you can’t say beyond a reasonable doubt that it was a homicide.”

Peterson, 58, is charged with killing Savio, 40, who was found dead in a dry bathtub March 1, 2004. Despite the initial accidental death ruling, officials reopened Savio’s case after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared in 2007.

Drew Peterson has not been charged in Stacy Peterson’s disappearance, though he remains a suspect. He denies wrongdoing in both cases.

Over the past four weeks, the prosecution has presented more than 30 witnesses to help paint a portrait of Savio as a woman who was terrified of her ex-husband and predicted her death at his hands. They also called two experts who testified that her injuries weren’t consistent with an accident.

Prosecutors, however, haven’t yet explicitly presented their theory of the casethat Peterson put Savio in a police chokehold until she passed out and then drowned her in her Bolingbrook bathtub. He then allegedly struck her in the back of the head, perhaps with a police baton, to make it look like an accident, according to their theory.

Burmila has hindered the prosecution’s ability to lay the groundwork for that scenario, saying the state had presented nothing to support that claim.

“You don’t even have any evidence linking him to the scene, and now you want to say this is what he did there?” Burmila asked prosecutors during court Friday.

But one crucial witness, the Rev. Neil Schori, testified that Stacy Peterson told him she had lied to police to cover up Peterson’s murder of Savio. She also confided to her pastor that Peterson disappeared on the weekend of his ex-wife’s death, returning later that night to wash women’s clothing that didn’t belong to her.

Experts contend the defense needs to poke holes in Schori’s testimony in order to bolster their case. Peterson’s attorneys won’t necessarily argue that Schori lied to the court about Stacy Peterson’s comments, but instead will likely point out that there is no way to determine if she was telling Schori the truth, experts said.

“The only thing that puts Drew in that house is what Stacy said,” said criminal defense attorney Sam Adam Jr., who has attended the trial and is close with many members of Peterson’s team. “If you can put doubt on that, you win.”

Burmila also has signed an order compelling Savio’s divorce attorney, Harry Smith, to testify as a defense witness Monday. Both sides have intimated that Smith knows Savio lied under oath in connection with a 2002 misdemeanor battery case stemming from a frontyard brawl between her and Stacy.

Peterson’s attorneys also may call Savio’s neighbor, Mary Pontarelli, who already testified for the prosecution. The defense hopes her testimony offsets an oft-recounted incident in which Savio claimed Peterson broke into her home in July 2002, pinned her to the stairs and held a knife to her throat.

The defense has stated in court that Pontarelli told investigators that Savio described the interaction as a “nice conversation.”

The defense case is expected to take about two or three days, Peterson attorney Joe Lopez said. Though the slow-moving trial has deviated from its schedule on several occasions, court officials say it’s likely that closing arguments could be held Sept 4.

“We want to get this case to the jury,” Lopez said. “We’ve been delayed and delayed and delayed. I think when you see our case, it’s not going to go anything like the state’s case. It’ll go in smooth, it’ll go in quick, and we’ll get to closing arguments.”

Tribune reporter Matthew Walberg contributed.

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