Another day, another blunder by the prosecution in the Drew Peterson Murder Trial. This time, a witness reveals details the judge didn't want to hear. Kim Vatis reports.
An increasingly exasperated judge at former police officer Drew Peterson's murder trial delivered his strongest rebuke of prosecutors yet on Wednesday after a pathologist spoke about how he crawled into a bathtub as part of his examination of the death of Peterson's third wife.
Prosecutors are trying to prove that Peterson, 58, killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, whose 2004 death was initially ruled accidental. Savio's body was re-examined and her death reclassified as a homicide only after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007.
Tellingly, the defense did not react to the prosecutors latest in a series of missteps by asking for a mistrial, as they have done three times in as many weeks. That may suggest that they feel their odds of an acquittal or a hung jury improve at the current trial where prosecutors have made blunder after blunder, repeatedly referencing subjects the judge has told them not to mention.
Dr. Larry Blum, a forensic pathologist, testified Wednesday about reversing the initial finding that Savio died in an accidental fall. Judge Edward Burmila had told prosecutors before Blum took the stand that he could not talk about how he got into the tub where Savio had been found dead years earlier.
When Blum did just that under questioning from Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow, Burmila sent jurors out of the room and took Glasgow to task.
"It does not appear that any orders I have given the state pays attention to," said Burmila, who once lost an election to Glasgow for the state's attorney's job. Burmila ran as a Republican and Glasgow as a Democrat.
Glasgow apologized for not noticing Blum was about to veer into prohibited testimony, telling Burmila that after an hour-and-a-half asking witness questions, "I was getting a little woozy."
Burmila bristled, noting that an assistant prosecutor the day before had said a momentary lapse caused her to ask a question of another witness she had been barred from asking.
"Yesterday it was a brain cramp. Today it's wooziness," Burmila said angrily. "The disrespect to the court is shocking."
Defense attorney Ralph Meczyk encouraged Burmila to throw out all of the testimony from Blum — one of the state's most important witnesses — arguing that prosecutors have continually flouted the judge's rules and then claimed they were innocent mistakes.
"It is slips in the tub and slips in the courtroom," he said, mocking the state's explanations for the errors.
Burmila denied that request and allowed Blum to resume testifying.
Blum testified that there were no edges pronounced enough along Savio's circular tub to cause a 2-inch, straight line gash on the back of her head. The position of her body in the tub and a pattern of bruises also pointed to murder, he said.
The judge has seriously considered defense requests for a mistrial three times in as many weeks.
Earlier in the day, Peterson's attorneys withdrew their latest motion for a mistrial, made after Tuesday's mistake. In that instance, a prosecutor asked a witness about whether Savio had ever sought an order of protection from Peterson. Burmila had told prosecutors not to bring that subject up.
"We are not giving the state a practice run," defense attorney Joe Lopez said, referring to how the state could seek to correct mistakes in strategy at any retrial based on their experiences at the current trial. "This is a real race and Mr. Peterson wants the world to know that he's not afraid. He wants to keep this jury in its place."
Even if the current jury were to convict Peterson, the repeated errors made by prosecutors could serve as solid grounds for an appeal.
As he left the Joliet courthouse Wednesday evening, Glasgow put part of the blame on Peterson's attorneys for repeatedly going after prosecutors.
"The nonsensical attack on the state's case just to gain the advantage has got to stop," he said.
Lopez said it was the judge, not the defense, that was taking prosecutors to task.
"Look at the judge's reactions, if he thinks we (are the ones) out of line," Lopez said.
Peterson has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Savio's death. He is also a suspect in Stacy Peterson's disappearance, although he has never been charged in her case. Authorities presume she is dead, though a body has never been found.