Prosecutors get off to rocky start in Drew Peterson murder trial
CHICAGO (MCT) — Kathleen Savio's stepmother sobbed quietly in the courtroom gallery when prosecutors showed pictures for jurors of Savio's curled body in her bathtub, blood trickling from her head toward the drain.
It was one of the most dramatic moments on the contentious first day of the murder trial for former Bolingbrook, Ill., police Sgt. Drew Peterson, who was painted in opening statements Tuesday as an abusive killer by prosecutors and the victim of rumor and hearsay by the defense.
It was a tension-filled first day for the long-awaited trial, and a rocky start for prosecutors, who lost battles to include what they said were essential parts of their first day's evidence and narrowly avoided a potential mistrial. Both sides objected at length during opening statements. A defense attorney was admonished by the trial judge for essentially testifying about his view of Peterson's personal history.
By the end of the openings, Savio's family complained that she appeared to be the one on trial, as defense attorney Joel Brodsky repeatedly called her "bonkers" and "crazy."
Peterson, 58, is on trial for the 2004 drowning of Savio, 40. Her death was initially called an accident, but was reinvestigated after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, vanished in 2007, sparking a national media frenzy.
State's Attorney James Glasgow asked jurors during his opening statement to use their common sense in judging a mostly circumstantial case. He carefully avoided mention of the hearsay evidence they hope to use, but read excerpts from Peterson's interviews on "The Today Show" and "Larry King Live."
"There's no DNA, fingerprints or videotaped confession," he said. "Your common-sense experience from everyday life, that's worth more than anything else you bring into the jury box."
The original investigation into Savio's death was botched, police and prosecutors have said, and there is no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio's alleged murder.
"In this case, you're going to hear nothing but myth, rumor and hearsay," Brodsky said in his opening statement. "But in court, you have a man's life in your hands. You have to ignore the myth and focus on the facts, and when you do, you'll find out what my client is, and that is not guilty."
Brodsky told jurors that Savio "lies and makes up stories to fit her purpose," an apparent swipe at hearsay statements prosecutors hope to introduce in which Savio told others she feared Peterson would kill her.
Brodsky said outside court that he was trying to demonstrate to jurors that Savio's fighting spirit made it unlikely that she could have been overcome by an attacker without creating a chaotic murder scene.
"It seems like they're trying to make Drew the victim instead of Kathy," said Savio's step-mother, Marcia Savio, outside the courtroom. "Kathy was always a strong girl and the problem is, she wasn't strong enough."
Defense attorney Joe Lopez said outside court that his client was "a victim of the system."
"They've taken an accident and tried to make it a homicide," Lopez said. "He's a victim of the system. He's caught in the system, trying to get out of it."
The trial nearly came to a halt only moments after Glasgow buttoned his dark suit with one hand and introduced himself to jurors Tuesday morning.
Glasgow had begun telling jurors during his opening statement that Peterson offered $25,000 to a cable company co-worker to find a hit man to kill Savio when defense attorney Steve Greenberg interrupted with an objection.
Outside the presence of jurors, Greenberg argued that a prior judge had barred the statement and that prosecutors had not told the defense team they planned to use it.
Judge Edward Burmila agreed, but he denied a defense motion for a mistrial because jurors heard Glasgow say only that Peterson "offered $25,000 to a friend" before Glasgow was cut off by Greenberg's objection.
Outside court, Glasgow declined to talk about the case or the judge's ruling. "Once we start the case, I can't comment," Glasgow said.
Prosecutors lost several fights Tuesday over crucial pieces of evidence.
Burmila said prosecutors could not show jurors a picture of a hole Peterson allegedly cut into the drywall of the home where Savio lived, saying it was irrelevant because Peterson still co-owned the home. Prosecutors allege Peterson cut the hole to gain access to Savio's home.
Peterson seemed at ease before the openings, joking with attorneys, but his demeanor was all business once the trial started. Dressed in a dark suit, Peterson stood when prosecutors asked the day's first and only witness, Savio's next-door neighbor and close friend Mary Pontarelli, to identify him.
Prosecutors were not allowed to question Pontarelli about an incident on Savio's front lawn in which Peterson threw Savio to the ground and put her in a police hold after Savio and Stacy Peterson got into a fight.
"It shows how easily the defendant can gain complete control over Kathleen Savio," argued assistant state's attorney Kathleen Patton.
The setbacks for prosecutors also discouraged a representative from Stacy Peterson's family who attended the first day of trial.
"It was frustrating," said Pam Bosco, the family's spokeswoman. "Some of those things were very important for the case."
When she was shown a picture of Savio lying lifeless in her bathtub, Pontarelli quickly turned away and sobbed.
"(That's) Kathleen," Pontarelli said.
Pontarelli said she and her husband, Tom, their son Nick and neighbor Steve Carcerano entered Savio's home late in the evening of March 1, 2004, after Peterson told her he could not get in touch with his ex-wife.
After a locksmith picked the front door, Pontarelli said she and Carcerano went to Savio's bedroom while her husband and son checked the downstairs. Peterson, she said, waited by the front door.
When she entered Savio's room, she checked under the bedcovers while Carcerano checked the closets and called Pontarelli when he opened the bathroom door in the darkened home.
"I went into the bathroom, seen Kathleen in the tub and I ran out of the bathroom and threw myself on the floor and started screaming," she said.
Pontarelli said Peterson checked Savio's pulse. She asked Peterson if Savio was dead. He responded, "Yes, Mary. She is."
Testimony is scheduled to continue Wednesday.