BOLINGBROOK, Ill. – Defense attorney Joseph Tacopina knows what Drew Peterson is trying to do by repeatedly going on television to proclaim his innocence in the disappearance of his wife and death of an ex-wife.
He gets that the former Bolingbrook police sergeant is trying to quell growing suspicions being fed in the media by angry relatives, neighbors, an ex-wife and scathing words from the likes of TV hosts John Walsh and Geraldo Rivera.
But he also believes comments Peterson made about his missing wife, along with his behavior after she disappeared, could backfire.
"He really couldn't have done anything worse short of saying, `Yeah, I killed her, so what?'" said Tacopina, a lawyer not involved in the Peterson case whose clients have included a suspect in the 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba.
It has been more than three weeks since Stacy Peterson vanished. Since then, authorities have said they believe the death of Peterson's third wife, Kathleen Savio — whose body was found in a bathtub in 2004 — was a homicide staged to look like an accidental drowning.
Peterson has not been called a suspect in Savio's death, but authorities said they suspected him in Stacy Peterson's disappearance.
Peterson, 53, has found himself at the center of a media storm.
He went from explaining to reporters that his 23-year-old wife left him for another man to leaving his home or staying inside to escape the growing crush of TV news trucks camped outside.
Recently, though, he's decided to talk. He invited Rivera into his house. He flew to New York to appear on NBC's "Today" show and ABC's "Good Morning America."
"He said ... I want to get my message out to the world," said Steve Carcerano, a friend who says he found Savio's body.
Peterson has repeatedly said he had nothing to do with his wife's disappearance or the death of Savio, whose body was exhumed last week so authorities could re-examine it.
But when Peterson talks, the public listens — both to what he says and how he says it.
In some interviews, Peterson said his wife's behavior was tied to her menstrual cycle and told how he paid for cosmetic surgery. Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted," described Peterson's answers as "awful cold-blooded responses."
Prosecutors also are listening, waiting for Peterson to slip and make a statement that doesn't jibe with what he's said before, defense attorneys say.
"You should be very careful (because) the next time you watch, you could be sitting in the defendant's chair," said Mark Geragos, who represented Scott Peterson, the California man convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Laci.
Three interviews Scott Peterson gave before he retained Geragos were played in open court.
Scott Peterson's own words in those taped interviews and taped conversations did him in, Geragos said.
Defense attorney Gerry Spence agrees.
"They never even proved a murder in that case," Spence said of Scott Peterson. "The thing he did do was cheat on his wife. He got the death penalty for proof that he cheated on his wife."
Geragos said media interviews pose another hazard.
"If they find (Stacy Peterson) and she's dead and she was dead at the time the interview was done ... those things look awful. Whether (Drew Peterson) had anything to do with it, it looks awful," Geragos said.
On Monday, it seemed that Peterson — or at least the attorney he retained last week — recognized that interviews are risky. During a brief interview on "Today," Joel Brodsky would not let his client respond to most questions.
"I think you will see his comments tailing off now," Brodsky said Tuesday.
But he also said the appearance was necessary to confront statements made by a pathologist who examined Savio's body on behalf of her family and said he believed the woman was murdered.
"We had no choice but to dispute it, get our message out," Brodsky said.
Tacopina — who said he would not let Joran Van der Sloot, a suspect in Holloway's disappearance, talk to the media for nine months — said the damage already may have been done in Drew Peterson's case.
"Not for a second do I judge this guy, but his stand-up routine in front of his house while his wife is missing is in bad taste and people cannot reconcile that with someone who is grieving," he said.
Because of that, along with his answers during interviews, including referring to his wife in the past tense, Peterson might have hurt himself if his fate is put in the hands of a jury, Tacopina said.
"Things like that, when there is maybe a gap in the evidence, the jury's disdain for the defendant will often fill that gap where the evidence should be," he said.