A judge decided against declaring a mistrial in Drew Peterson's murder case Thursday, saying the former police officer still can get a fair trial despite prosecutors' missteps.
The ruling by Judge Edward Burmila followed several blunders by prosecutors, who are seeking to prove the 58-year-old Peterson killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, 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.
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.
Prosecutors later admitted under tough questioning by Burmila that there was no evidence to support the claim, which the judge has said was inadmissible evidence.
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."
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 as many days 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.