Judge denies mistrial motion in Drew Peterson case - FOX 32 News Chicago

Judge denies mistrial motion in Drew Peterson case

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CHICAGO (Associated Press) -

Testimony at former police officer Drew Peterson's murder trial has resumed after legal drama threatened to end the trial before it barely started.

Judge Edward Burmila decided against declaring a mistrial, criticizing prosecutors for entering inadmissible evidence. But he concluded that the former Bolingbrook police officer still can get a fair trial.

NEW WITNESSES CALLED

Prosecutors called a paramedic to the stand Thursday after the ruling.

Louis Oleszkiewicz described arriving at Kathleen Savio's home in 2004, after neighbor Mary Pontarelli found her body. She is married to Thomas Pontarelli, the witness whose testimony Judge Burmila told the jury to ignore.

Peterson is accused of murdering his third wife, Kathleen Savio, and was charged in 2009.

Oleszkiewicz addressed prosecutors' contention Peterson staged the bathroom where Savio was found so it looked like she died accidentally. He said a towel in the bathroom that appeared in an investigation photo wasn't there when he was in the home later.

A locksmith who opened the door of Savio's home that night at Drew Peterson's request also took the stand.
 
Robert Akin, Jr., said he left the scene after he heard a scream -- which was the sound of a neighbor who had just discovered Savio's body inside.
 
"I got the heck out of Dodge," he said, his language prompting laughter in court. "I just sorta figured -- it wasn't good. ... You don't want the locksmith around, trust me."

Later, prosecutors hit another roadblock, though, when they tried to put Harry Smith, Savio's divorce lawyer, on the stand. The judge suggested the Peterson- Savio divorce case was largely settled and could not be used as a motive for the killing.

"There was a hearing. Drew got what he was entitled to get in the divorce. End of story," said Brodsky.

PROSECUTION ON THIN ICE

Burmila's ruling followed several blunders by prosecutors, who are seeking to prove the 58-year-old Peterson killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, whose body was found in a dry bathtub in 2004. He also is a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, but has never been charged in her case.

Burmila made it clear Thursday that he seriously entertained the possibility of effectively canceling the trial. But the judge, who had wondered aloud Wednesday whether the testimony made Peterson appear menacing in jurors' eyes and undermined his shot at a fair trial, said ending the trial was unnecessary.

"The court believes that the defendant's ability to receive a fair trial is not extinguished at this time," Burmila said.

A furious Burmila admonished prosecutors Wednesday after a witness began testifying about finding a .38-caliber bullet on his driveway. Thomas Pontarelli, a former neighbor of Savio's, hinted that Peterson may have planted it there to intimidate him.

Early Thursday, Burmila told jurors to disregard Pontarelli's statement about the bullet. And, in a rarity for trials, the judge signaled to jurors that the state had messed up, telling them a prosecutor had asked Pontarelli a question "she knew would elicit an inadmissible response."

Defense attorney Steve Greenberg said Thursday that prosecutors are bent on proving Savio, neighbors and others were afraid of Peterson as backhanded way to try to prove he committed murder.

"So far we have a jury that thinks that everyone is afraid of Mr. Peterson. How is that fair to Mr. Peterson?" Greenberg said in arguing for a mistrial. "What evidence do they have that he did anything wrong. (They have) nothing. So what they want is to make him look like a bad guy."

Prosecutor Chris Koch said the witness mentioned the bullet of his own accord and not at prosecutors' urging.

"To sit here now and say that was somehow intentionally done ... absolutely absurd," he said.

But the judge, who had wondered aloud the day before about whether the testimony made Peterson appear menacing in jurors' eyes and undermined his ability to get a fair trial, told attorneys that "the court believes that the defendant's ability to receive a fair trial is not extinguished at this time."

Legal experts said if Judge Burmila had granted a mistrial for Drew Peterson, there's an outside chance it could have resulted in the former suburban Chicago police officer going free.

Attorneys for Peterson also said to reporters before court Thursday that they think prosecutors were intentionally trying to get a mistrial so they can start over.

Greenberg said there's evidence the judge has ruled the jury can't hear. He also said he believes prosecutors wanted a mistrial to give them time to get the judge to change his mind.

Greenberg said the defense instead hoped the judge would grant a mistrial and rule Peterson can't face trial again.

Lead prosecutor James Glasgow told FOX Chicago News that intentionally going for a mistrial was absolutely not what his team was trying to do. Not only is it unprofessional, it is just wrong.

Judge Edward Burmila announced his decision around 10 a.m. Thursday.

Chicago defense attorney Gal Pissetzky said Peterson couldn't be tried again for murder in Savio's death if Judge Burmila ruled in favor of the defense's mistrial with prejudice request, because to try Peterson again would result in double jeopardy.

But the lawyer said such rulings are rare.

Peterson, who was a police officer in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Savio's death. He also has said he wasn't responsible for his fourth wife's disappearance.

The mistrial request was the second in 24 hours in the case that has been beset for years by botched investigations and an absence of physical evidence.

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow had nearly triggered a mistrial during his opening statement Monday when he referred to an accusation Peterson once tried to hire a hit man for $25,000. Burmila said there was no proof of that, either, but allowed the trial to continue.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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