After years of delays, the murder trial of Drew Peterson — the suburban Chicago police sergeant accused of killing his third wife and suspected in the disappearance of his fourth — is set to begin.
The former Bolingbrook, Ill., policeman, who has bizarrely joked with reporters and appeared carefree in television and radio interviews since coming under the spotlight more than five years ago, is charged with killing Kathleen Savio in 2004. The alleged murder was initially believed an accidental drowning, but after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared, it was reinvestigated, with authorities ruling it was a homicide.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin July 23, with opening statements penciled in for one week later, on July 30. The trial had been delayed for more than two years as prosecutors and attorneys for the 58-year-old suspect clashed over the admissibility of key testimony, including a bathtub prosecutors describe as "the murder weapon."
"Yes, your honor," Peterson told Will County Judge Edward Burmila when asked if he was "comfortable" with the date. "I've been in solitary confinement for three years, your honor."
"I've been in solitary confinement for three years, your honor."
- Murder suspect Drew Peterson
One challenge facing attorneys is empaneling a jury that either doesn't know about, or at least won't be influenced by the fact that Peterson is suspected in the disappearance of Stacy Peterson. Both cases have gotten widespread publicity, thanks to Peterson's oddly gregarious nature in the face of suspicions and a Lifetime television movie starring Rob Lowe as Peterson. Defense attorneys concede that it may not be possible to find jurors who don't know about Stacy Peterson.
"There will be no mention … that she is dead, presumed dead, killed by the defendant or anything of the kind," Burmila ruled.
Peterson has not been charged in Stacy Peterson's disappearance, but remains the only suspect.
On Tuesday, the judge ruled the bathtub in which Savio's body was discovered cannot be brought into court.
State police removed the tub in 2008 and have long considered it a key piece of evidence.
"The bathtub is now essentially the murder weapon," Assistant State Attorney John Connor said in court earlier this week.
Prosecutors plan to testify that the injuries Savio suffered could not have been caused by slipping and falling in the tub. Showing jurors the tub may help them make their case better than relying on photos.
Peterson’s lawyer, Joseph Lopez, argued that dragging the tub into court could mislead.
"They can't just roll it in on a dolly and say, 'Here's the tub, inspect it,'" Lopez said in court.
Burmila ruled the tub can’t be brought into his courtroom, but left open the possibility jurors could see it in Savio's former home if the family now living there allows it to be re-installed.