JOLIET, Ill. – Former Illinois police officer Drew Peterson's fourth wife had told a minister that the night before her husband's ex-wife was found dead, he had disappeared, only to turn up later dressed in black and carrying a bag of women's clothes, the minister testified Friday.
The testimony from the Rev. Neil Schori was the most potentially damaging yet during a pretrial hearing to determine what hearsay evidence a judge will allow jurors to hear when Peterson stands trial in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, whose body was found in a dry bathtub in her home. Schori also said Stacy Peterson had told him that her husband had coached her about what to tell police.
Savio's death was originally ruled an accident. But after Drew Peterson was named a suspect in the disappearance of Stacy Peterson in October 2007, Savio's body was exhumed, a new autopsy was conducted and her death was ruled a homicide.
The hearing stems from a state law that allows a judge to admit hearsay evidence in first-degree murder cases if prosecutors can prove a defendant killed a witness to prevent him or her from testifying.
In the nearly two weeks the hearing has gone on, witness after witness has limited testimony to either Savio or Stacy Peterson. Schori's testimony provided the clearest connection between the two cases.
Drew Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. He has not been charged in Stacy Peterson's disappearance, but authorities say he is considered the only suspect.
Stacy Peterson spoke with Schori, a counseling minister at Westbrook Christian Church in Bolingbrook, months before she went missing in 2007.
"She was scared of the control Drew had on her life," Schori said. "She was scared to be with him and scared to be away from him."
Schori said that Stacy Peterson told him that the night before Savio's body was found, she had fallen asleep with Drew Peterson, but woke up in the middle of the night to discover her husband was gone. She searched the house and called his cell phone without an answer, but didn't see her husband until later in the laundry room, Schori said.
Schori said Stacy Peterson told him her husband was dressed entirely in black. The minister said Stacy Peterson told him that her husband dumped the clothes was wearing, along with women's clothing from a bag he was carrying, into the washing machine. Schori said Stacy Peterson said the women's clothes weren't hers.
Schori said he didn't tell police because Stacy Peterson asked him not to. Schori testified that she told him: "It won't do any good. You can't get away from the police when your husband is a police officer."
But Schori said he "immediately" tried to contact police after Stacy Peterson's disappearance.
The judge limited Schori's testimony, preventing him from talking about conversations Stacy Peterson had with her husband, among other things.
Scott Rossetto, a friend of Stacy Peterson, said that days before Stacy Peterson disappeared she told him she had contacted a divorce lawyer and was ready to leave her husband.
Then, he said, she asked if Rossetto could "keep a secret." She then told him that the night Savio died, Drew Peterson came in late at night and said "if anybody ever asks I was home," Rossetto said.
Prosecutors also presented a neurologist to combat defense attorneys' contention that Savio's death was an accident, that she simply fell. Dr. Gene Neri testified that he had diagnosed her with cervical vertigo, but he said "In 30 years of treating (patients) I haven't had a single person fall as a result of cervical vertigo."
In fact, he said that's because people with this particular kind of vertigo are extremely careful.