The Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered an appellate court to take another look at whether disputed evidence can be used against ex-cop Drew Peterson when his murder trial begins.
The ruling likely stalls Peterson’s already delayed trial and leaves open — at least for a while — the issue of how much hearsay evidence can be presented when the former Bolingbrook police officer stands trial on charges he drowned third wife Kathleen Savio.
Peterson's lead attorney, Joel Brodsky, said the ruling was not necessarily good for the defense.
“Obviously, it's not a victory in the sense that we're not going to get to trial as we had hoped. This is going to delay things further, and Mr. Peterson would have to spend more time in isolation,” Brodsky said. “We're confident that the Appellate Court is going to uphold the ruling of the trial court,” he said, which decided much of the hearsay evidence against Peterson was inadmissible in court.
An Illinois Appellate Court panel in July effectively limited the use of statements purportedly made by Savio before her death in March 2004.
By a 2-1 vote, the panel upheld a ruling by Will County Judge Stephen White barring eight of 14 statements allegedly made by Savio and others because they weren’t sufficiently reliable.
But the appellate court based its ruling on a timing issue, finding that Will County prosecutors missed a crucial 30-day deadline in appealing White’s original ruling.
The appellate court didn’t directly address whether any of the statements were reliable enough to be used as evidence.
The Supreme Court ruling issued Wednesday directs the appellate court to address the reliability issue — though Peterson defense attorney Steven Greenberg said he believes the blown deadline is enough to derail any appeal by prosecutors.
“I think the appellate court made the right decision,” Greenberg said.
In challenging that appellate ruling, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow asked the Supreme Court to allow the eight banned hearsay statements to be used against Peterson. Glasgow contended he delayed filing his initial appeal because he was waiting for a Supreme Court ruling in another case on hearsay evidence.
Glasgow couldn’t immediately be reached Wednesday for comment.
It’s unclear when the 3rd District Appellate Court will rule on the evidence issue.
Peterson, now 57, has remained jailed since his 2009 arrest on charges he drowned Savio, 40, in her Bolingbrook home.
Brodsky said the ruling by the Supreme Court could delay the trial until April, May or June of next year, and if the Appellate Court's decision is appealed again, it could be as late as 2013.
Brodsky decried Peterson's treatment in jail, saying he “has no human contact, and it's very difficult. If it was me in there, I would be a blob of Jello. He seems to be doing amazingly well for the conditions.”
Defense attorneys have repeatedly petitioned for Peterson's release from jail, but have been denied.
Peterson also remains a suspect in the still-unsolved disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, who vanished in October 2007 from the couple’s home.