(MCT) — CHICAGO — Drew Peterson could be sentenced to up to 60 years in prison Thursday if a judge rejects defense team arguments that his former lead attorney’s inept trial performance violated his constitutional rights to a fair trial.
Judge Edward Burmila is expected to rule Thursday whether the former Bolingbrook, Ill., police sergeant will get a new trial, a rarely granted motion.
Peterson, 59, was convicted by a jury last fall of first-degree murder in the 2004 bathtub drowning of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
If a new trial is not granted, Burmila will begin a sentencing hearing at which prosecutors have said they plan to argue Peterson also killed his fourth wife, Stacy, who went missing in 2007, in asking for the maximum sentence.
Among the oddities Wednesday during the unusual hearing on post-trial motions that has stretched across two days was former Peterson lead attorney Joel Brodsky chatting in a courthouse hallway with Stacy’s sister Cassandra Cales.
Both declined to detail their conversation. “We were just discussing how to make sure that her sister Stacy isn’t forgotten after Drew goes away,” Brodsky said.
Much of Wednesday’s hearing focused on Brodsky’s trial decision to call Wheaton, Ill., divorce attorney Harry Smith, who represented Savio in her bitter divorce fight with Peterson and also fielded a call from Stacy about her divorce options shortly before she vanished.
Smith testified at trial that Stacy had asked him if the fact that Peterson killed his third wife could be used as leverage in a divorce.
Several jurors said after trial that the testimony convinced them of Peterson’s guilt. There was no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio’s death, which was initially treated as an accident.
Retired Cook County Judge Daniel Locallo, called as a witness Wednesday by Peterson’s attorneys, blasted Brodsky for calling Smith, saying the testimony for the first time at trial connected Peterson to Savio’s death.
The retired judge said that, in his opinion, Brodsky’s decisions constituted ineffective assistance of counsel, which can be grounds for a new trial.
“It was an awful decision,” defense attorney Steve Greenberg later argued in court. “It ruined the case — we brought out the worst possible evidence, and the best evidence for the state.”
The defense team also attempted to call to the stand Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow to explain his comment in a courthouse hallway during the trial that Smith’s testimony was “a gift from God.” Greenberg wanted to use the statement to contradict prosecutors’ argument that Smith’s testimony was part of well-thought-out defense strategy.
Burmila first called Glasgow to be sworn in, but stopped the process after prosecutors said Peterson had failed to meet the legal standards necessary to call him.
Assistant State’s Attorney Marie Czech argued that Brodsky’s decision to call Smith was a calculated risk to discredit Stacy by attempting to show she was out for money and not grounds for a new trial.
“There was a strategic decision,” she argued. “It was well-conceived.”
Greenberg argued that the upside was so small and the risks so monumental that there was no way Brodsky’s decision could have been part of a reasonable trial strategy.
“Whatever kernel of impeachment Mr. Brodsky thought he was going to get out of it paled in comparison to the mountain of damage that it brought out,” Greenberg said. “It was awful strategy, and that strategy alone means Mr. Peterson should get a new trial from this court.”
Brodsky, who could be heard sighing loudly as he listened to Wednesday’s arguments in an overflow room, continued to assert that he was not alone in the decision to call Smith, saying Greenberg supported the decision.
“A number of lies and misrepresentations were made about me today, but you know, I’ve got tough skin,” Brodsky said. “I can handle that.”
Stacy’s older sister Cales said she was “very excited” that Peterson could be sentenced Thursday.
“Even if he gets the minimum of 20 years, technically that’s life for him because he’s an old man,” she said.
Cales said that she still holds out hope that someone will come forward with information about her sister’s disappearance. Prosecutors have said they are reviewing the case again with an eye to possibly bringing charges.
“Maybe that person out there will have a conscience and come forward because Drew will be away at prison and will be unable to hurt them,” Cales said.