Opening statements in Peterson murder trial conflict - FOX 32 News Chicago

Opening statements in Peterson murder trial conflict on discovery of Savio

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Drew Peterson's murder trial began Tuesday with dueling stories.

Prosecutors gave jurors an account that could have come from a 1940s pulp novel, in which a man does whatever he must -- including murder -- to keep his ex-wife's hands off his money.

On the other side, Peterson's attorneys argued the former cop was a victim of something newer: a 24-hour news cycle and cable TV's talking heads, which together created a media frenzy that did not subside until prosecutors had charged an innocent man.

The former Bolingbrook police officer's murder trial began Tuesday.

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow told jurors that Peterson, 58, killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, 40, in 2004 and made it look like an accident.

"Just weeks before her death he told her he was going to kill her and she would not make it to a divorce settlement and would never get his pension," Glasgow said during opening statements.

Much of the prosecution's case rests on hearsay evidence from people who knew Savio and Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy.

The prosecution's first witness was Mary Pontarelli, a neighbor who discovered Savio's body in a dry bathtub, her hair soaked with blood.

"I saw Kathleen in the tub, ran out, threw myself on the ground and started screaming," she said, her voice cracking.

Peterson is accused of murdering Savio in 2004. His day in court comes nearly a decade after his third wife's death.

The 23-year-old vanished without a trace in 2007. The disappearance of his much younger fourth wife prompted investigators to exhume Savio's body and take a closer look at her death.

Peterson was charged with first-degree murder in 2009. He has not been charged in Stacy's disappearance.

In his opening statement, Peterson's defense attorney, Joel Brodsky, tried to knock down what will certainly be the prosecutors' contention that the investigation into Savio's death was a shoddy one.

Brodsky told jurors that the Illinois State Police investigators were very experienced, and that the reason the state police conducted the investigation was because the Bolingbrook Police Department wanted to make sure there were no questions since Peterson was one of their officers.

Brodsky even said state police "bagged" Savio's hand to preserve any evidence.

Brodsky said not one person - from police to prosecutors to Savio's own family - suggested Savio's death was anything other than an accident.

"And the reason was because it was an accident," he said, adding that there was no sign of a struggle.

"The bathroom was in perfect order," he said. "There is not one shred of evidence whatsoever that Drew Peterson or anybody else for that matter was in that house. Why? Because this was a household accident, that's why.

"Kathy slipped and fell in a household accident, case closed," Brodsky said.

Brodsky also suggested that Peterson was the victim of a "media circus" after Stacy Peterson disappeared, triggered by the realization that Savio had died. Peterson was charged in Savio's death after his much younger fourth wife vanished.

Kathleen Savio's stepmother, angry a Brodsky, in his opening statement, referred to her late daughter Kathleen as a madwoman, prone to fits of anger, who repeatedly lied about being threatened during a dysfunctional marriage to Drew Peterson.

"As far as Mr. Brodsky's concerned, he's got to stop trashing Kathleen. Drew is not the victim, Kathleen was," Marcia Savio said.

Brodsky said he was just portraying Savio as a fighter, to prove Peterson didn't kill her.

"If somebody was trying to kill her, you would see that place torn apart. She would be fighting for her life," Brodsky said.

In the courtroom, an hour later, Savio was in tears again, as prosecutor's displayed photos of Kathleen Savio's dead body, found in the bathtub at her home.  Friends of Stacy Peterson were watching too.

"You felt the horror of that night," Pam Bosco, Stacy Peterson family spokesperson said.

Glasgow brought up Stacy Peterson during the prosecution's opening statements, making it clear her disappearance was the key to opening an investigation into Savio's death.

Glasgow told the jury that when a minister heard Stacy Peterson disappeared he went to authorities. The minister told them Stacy Peterson had told him something that would be crucial to their investigation into Savio's death.

Peterson has denied wrongdoing in both cases. Stacy Peterson's body has never been found, so the defense has said may have run off with another man.

Peterson defense attorney Joel Brodsky suggested during his opening statement that Peterson is the victim of his ex-wife's smear campaign.

Brodsky said Savio lied in court documents when she said she was afraid of Peterson, as a ploy during an ugly divorce to get as much money as possible. Brodsky also said Savio lied about him in court documents because she was angry that Peterson was having an affair.

"She was building her case against Drew," Brodsky said.

The court documents from Peterson's third wife might prove a key part of prosecutor's case against the former police officer - that the fears she expressed of Peterson killing her came true when Savio died.

Glasgow has said previously that Savio and Stacy Peterson will effectively speak to jurors through witnesses who can describe how Drew Peterson allegedly told his wives he could murder them and make it look like an accident.

The prosecution also believes he killed Stacy, in part, because she knew about Savio's death.

But Glasgow told the jury what has been widely known for years but what Glasgow has not said explicitly: There is no physical evidence linking Peterson to Savio's death.

A botched initial investigation into Savio's death left prosecutors with scant to no physical evidence, forcing them to rely heavily on hearsay evidence - statements not heard directly by a witness - which is normally barred at trials.

But Judge Edward Burmila has said he would decide what hearsay statements to admit only as testimony proceeds, so Glasgow will have to decide whether to risk mentioning statements to jurors that the judge might later prohibit.

"The last thing you want to do is make an opening about what jurors will hear, telling them the case hinges on what they'll hear - and then they don't hear it," Chicago-based attorney Michael Helfand said.

By presenting what they regard as overwhelming hearsay and circumstantial evidence, Zellner said prosecutors will want to show jurors the only possible explanation for Savio's death is that Peterson killed her.

In the case of Stacy Peterson, Burmila has warned prosecutors they can't tell jurors Drew Peterson is responsible for her disappearance or refer to authorities' belief that she is dead.

Attorneys on both sides will have to find the right terminology in talking about the missing fourth wife, said Brodsky, who added that the sides might be able to use the awkward phrase "she is no longer available."

The judge presiding over former Illinois police officer Drew Peterson's murder trial denied a defense request to declare a mistrial over something the head prosecutor said during his opening statement.

Judge Edward Burmila briefly sent jurors from the Joliet courtroom while attorneys argued whether lead prosecutor Glasgow's mention of $25,000 that Peterson allegedly offered a hit man to kill Savio warranted a mistrial.

Burmila said it didn't because Glasgow didn't say the money was offered to a hit man or that it was allegedly meant as payment to kill Savio.

Peterson's case is one of the biggest cases the Will County courthouse has seen in a long time, garnering media attention from across the country. Reporters from hard news platforms and entertainment outlets have flocked to Joliet to see his trial through.

The real-life drama inspired a TV movie and a national spotlight was put on the case, with speculation about whether Peterson used his law-enforcement expertise in a bid to get away with the 2004 murder - and to make Stacy disappear.

Those who have observed major criminal trials for years said the outcome of this one is especially hard to predict.

"I think it will be a close case," Kathleen Zellner said. She is a leading Chicago-area defense attorney.

Tuesday's openings pit the dry but dogged Glasgow against flamboyant Brodsky, both of whom have staked at least part of their reputations on the final result.

Peterson's legal team and prosecutors presented jurors with their version of what really happened to Peterson's third wife at 9 a.m. But his lawyers do not seem worried.

Brodsky lit up a "pre-victory" cigar Monday before meeting with members of the media. He said they are excited to finally get the case in front of a jury.

Peterson's attorney said he will tell jurors, who include a part-time poet, a letter carrier and a research technician whose favorite TV show is "Criminal Minds," the life story of his client and Savio.

"I'll tell a story from the beginning to the end so they can understand what's going on," Brodsky said about his planned Tuesday opening. "Until now, everything has been told just in slices."

His trial might have just started Tuesday, but he's apparently been planning life on the outside for a while now.

Bolingbrook Patch reports that Peterson wrote a series of love letters to a 26-year-old DuPage county woman throughout 2010.

The letters promise that "you'll see when I get out that I am a lot of fun..." and "you'll always be laughing."

Peterson emphasized that he was a good lover, too, saying that "in all my relationships I treated my partners like gold and spoiled them, which was probably a big mistake on my part..."

In case she got the wrong idea from his case - that he's not dangerous - Peterson covered his bases on that note, saying "I'll never hurt you but don't hurt me either..." and "you already broke my heart once. But I do understand."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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