JOLIET, Ill. – A renowned pathologist testified Friday that former police officer Drew Peterson's ex-wife drowned in her bathtub in 2004 after being beaten and intentionally held under water, not after an accidental fall.
Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner of New York City, said there were bruises on Kathleen Savio's body consistent with a struggle but no physical signs that she'd slipped and fallen, such as marks or blood on her bathroom wall.
"In my opinion, this is a homicide in which she drowned and was beaten up," Baden said.
Baden was the last of more than 70 witnesses called in a hearing to determine what hearsay evidence a judge will allow at Peterson's upcoming murder trial.
Hearsay, or statements not based on the direct knowledge of a witness, usually isn't admissible in court. But Illinois judges can allow it in murder trials if prosecutors prove a defendant may have killed a witness to prevent them from testifying. There's little available forensic evidence in Savio's case, so prosecutors are expected to rely on statements Savio allegedly made to others saying she feared Peterson could kill her.
Attorneys said they expect a decision on the hearsay issue in the next few weeks.
The former Bolingbrook police officer has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Savio's death. She was found dead in a dry bathtub with a laceration to the back of her head.
Savio's family asked Baden to conduct an autopsy in 2007 after the disappearance of Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. Savio's death was originally classified as an accident, but was reclassified a homicide after her body was exhumed. Peterson has not been charged in Stacy Peterson's disappearance and denies wrongdoing.
While Baden and another pathologist called by Will County prosecutors testified that Savio's death was a homicide, a pathologist called by the defense said he believes it was an accident and that Savio drowned after falling.
Baden said it's "extremely rare" for a healthy adult such as Savio to drown accidentally in a bathtub, noting that most people who drown in tubs are babies or the elderly. Savio's toes were pressed against the side of the bathtub, as if she was struggling, not relaxed as if she'd fallen and knocked herself out, Baden said.
He also refuted claims by the defense pathologist that a heart murmur may have caused Savio's heart to stop, saying her heart condition "did not cause or contribute in any way to her death."
Closing arguments in the hearing were also set for Friday.