Judge rules against mistrial in Drew Peterson case

The murder trial against former Illinois police officer Drew Peterson continued on Thursday.

M. Spencer Green/AP
Judge Edward Burmila enters the Will County Courthouse, Thursday, Aug. 2, in Joliet, Ill., to preside over the third day in Drew Peterson's murder trial.

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.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.