Victim to speak ‘from the grave’ in Peterson case
JOLIET, Ill. (AP) – Six years after she mysteriously drowned in a bathtub, Kathleen Savio is finally getting her day in court.
Savio essentially will testify from the grave Tuesday, with witnesses expected to tell a judge in Illinois how Savio discussed and wrote about her fears that her husband, former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Drew Peterson, would kill her.
The hearing is expected to provide the first detailed look at evidence prosecutors contend ties Peterson to Savio’s death. It stems from a state law that allows a judge to admit hearsay evidence – testimony from witnesses who recount what they heard from others – in first-degree murder cases if prosecutors can prove a defendant killed a witness to prevent him or her from testifying.
The Illinois Legislature passed the law after authorities named Peterson a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, then exhumed the body of Savio, his third wife, and reopened the investigation into her 2004 death. Though the bill’s sponsors were careful never to link the law publicly to Peterson, it has been referred to as “Drew’s Law,” and his attorneys have long suggested it was passed to put Peterson behind bars.
During the hearing, which is expected to last three weeks, prosecutors will present to Will County Judge Stephen White about 60 witnesses to testify about 15 hearsay statements. White will then decide if the jury can hear any or all of those statements when Peterson stands trial. Peterson has pleaded not guilty to murdering Savio, whose body was found in a dry tub. A trial date hasn’t been set.
While neither side has talked much about the evidence in the case, from the day Peterson was arrested, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow has made it clear that allowing Savio to tell jurors why Peterson wanted her dead is crucial to his case.
“In essence, what you’re basically allowing the victim of a violent crime to do is testify from the grave,” Glasgow, who pushed for passage of the bill, told reporters in May shortly after Peterson was arrested.
The list of witnesses remains under seal, but Savio’s niece, Melissa Doman, said her mother, Anna Doman, is among those who have been called to testify.
“It would be about things my Aunt Kitty (Savio) told my mom about how she was afraid for her life, she said she was afraid of Drew,” Melissa Doman said, adding that she has not been called to testify.
Also expected to testify are other members of Savio’s family, including her sister, Susan Savio. It was Susan Savio who told a coroner’s jury shortly after her sister’s death that Kathleen Savio had told family members that, “if she would die, it may look like an accident, but it wasn’t.”
The death initially was ruled an accidental drowning – until Stacy Peterson’s disappearance led officials to exhume Savio’s body, conduct another autopsy and conclude Savio was the victim of a homicide. Drew Peterson has not been charged in Stacy Peterson’s disappearance.
Other possible witnesses who could be asked to testify about the stormy relationship between Drew Peterson and Savio are his former colleagues. Eighteen times in two years, police were called to the couple’s Bolingbrook home to respond to reports of trouble between the two, with Savio telling officers that her husband had beaten her and threatened to kill her. Peterson was never charged. Savio was charged with domestic battery and later was acquitted.
There also are court documents that prosecutors are expected to present into evidence, including a 2002 order of protection in which Savio alleges that Peterson knocked her down, ripped off her necklace and left marks on her body.
“He wants me dead, and if he has to, he will burn the house down just to shut me up,” she wrote.
Among the more intriguing possible witnesses are members of the clergy at a Bolingbrook church attended by Stacy Peterson. In the days after her disappearance, there were media reports that she had told a clergyman a couple months earlier that Drew Peterson had confessed to her that he killed Savio and made it look like an accident.
Peterson’s attorneys have made it clear that they will attack the credibility of at least some of the witnesses.
“All it is, is rumor, innuendo and gossip,” defense attorney Joel Brodsky said after a recent hearing concerning information contained in the 15 statements. “People had ulterior motives for saying what they said or are out-and-out unreliable people.”
The defense is not expected to call any witnesses of its own during the hearing.
“People should not think this is going to be the trial,” Brodsky said.
He said the hearing will help Peterson.
“We think that even in this questioning, a lot of beliefs that people have about what was said and who said them are going to be burst, dashed,” he said.