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Will Drew Peterson go free? (+video)

The judge in the murder case involving a former police officer in a Chicago suburb is again considering declaring a mistrial. An attorney for the state asked a witness a question that the judge had told her not to mention in front of the jury. 

By Michael TarmAssociated Press / August 14, 2012

Will County Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Patton, left, leaves the Will County Courthouse in Joliet, Ill., with first deputy States Attorney, Ken Grey, right, after the judge in the murder trial of former Bolingbrook, Ill., police officer Drew Peterson said he would would announce his decision on a mistrial motion Wednesday morning.

AP Photo/M Spencer Green

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JOLIET, Ill.

The judge at Drew Peterson's murder trial on Tuesday lambasted prosecutors who for the third time in as many weeks broached a subject they were told not to mention in front of jurors — again raising the possibility that the case could end with the judge letting the former police officer go free.

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For the third time in three weeks, there's a motion for a mistrial in the Drew Peterson murder trial.

Judge Edward Burmila seemed unmoved by repeated apologies by an attorney for the state and said he would rule Wednesday on whether to declare a mistrial in a case beset by problems from its outset.

Peterson, a 58-year-old former police officer in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Just two hours before, Burmila had told prosecutor Kathleen Patton not to ask a witness about whether Savio had sought an order of protection against Peterson in front of the jury. When she did, he told jurors to leave the room and berated the prosecutor.

"There was one thing I told you not to go into and that's exactly what you did," Burmila told her.

Investigators collected no physical evidence after Savio was found dead in a dry bathtub at her home, and authorities initially ruled that Savio accidentally drowned. But after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007, Savio's body was re-examined and her death was reclassified as a homicide.

Patton explained that the question was on a prepared list of questions and that she read it inadvertently.

"I'm sorry," Patton said. "It's my fault. I can't believe I did it."

During a break, Patton sat in an adjoining courtroom, her shoulders slumped forward, her face buried in her hands, shaking her head over and over. Her boss, Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow, stood a few feet away, his head down.

The error came just as the trial seemed to be going prosecutors' way in recent days, with the judge granting them permission to present hearsay evidence central to their case.

Hearsay, or statements not based on the direct knowledge of a witness, is not usually admissible in court, but Illinois passed a law in the wake of the Peterson case that allows it in certain circumstances. Prosecutors have acknowledged they have no physical evidence linking Peterson to Savio's death, so hearsay evidence about what Savio allegedly said to other people is crucial to their case.

The mistake also came as Patton was questioning one of the state's most compelling witnesses so far.

Former police officer Teresa Kernc had just told jurors about interviewing Savio in 2002 after Peterson allegedly broke into Savio's home in a SWAT uniform and repeatedly pushed her to the ground.

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