JOLIET, Ill (Reuters) - Lawyers for former suburban Chicago police officer Drew Peterson, accused of murdering his wife, asked on Tuesday that the judge declare a mistrial after prosecutors introduced barred evidence.
This was the third mistrial request from Peterson’s defense. The previous two were denied, and Will County Judge Edward Burmila will rule on the latest on Wednesday.
Peterson is accused of killing Kathleen Savio, his third wife, while they were engaged in a contentious divorce in 2004 and then staging her death to look like an accidental drowning.
Assistant State’s Attorney Kathleen Patton on Tuesday asked a prosecution witness about a protection order Savio had considered obtaining, a direct violation of an order Burmila issued only hours earlier.
The reference enraged Burmila, who admonished a visibly shaken Patton after dismissing the jury from the courtroom.
Patton apologized for the gaffe and insisted it was an honest mistake, but Burmila appeared unmoved. “We can’t have a situation where the court makes a ruling and the state ignores it,” he said.
Peterson’s defense team argued that the introduction of barred testimony made it impossible for the defense to get a fair trial.
“I don’t know how many times they can introduce prejudiced evidence that you have excluded,” said defense attorney Steve Greenberg. “I don’t know how we can wipe that from the jurors’ minds. It’s not fair.”
The defense team requested a mistrial with prejudice -- which would mean Peterson would go free and not be retried -- but asked that Burmila not consider a mistrial without prejudice. Having to restart the trial from the beginning, after a likely delay of many more months, would be worse than continuing the trial, the defense argued.
The prosecution countered that a more fitting remedy would be to simply strike Patton’s question that referred to an order of protection from the record and advise the jury that no such order was ever actually sought by Savio.
Patton also asked Burmila that any sanctions be directed at her personally and not the state. “This was my error,” she said.
During a recess, Patton could be seen standing alone outside Burmila’s Will County courtroom with her head in her hands.
Investigators initially ruled Savio’s death accidental. Suspicions were raised, however, when Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007. Savio’s body was exhumed and re-examined and Peterson was charged with murder.
Through nine days of testimony, prosecution witnesses have portrayed Savio as having lived in constant fear of Peterson. With little physical evidence to link Peterson to Savio’s death, prosecutors have sought to introduce testimony that he threatened her and tried to hire a hitman.
The Peterson case has drawn national attention and was the subject of a popular Lifetime television network movie, “Untouchable,” starring Rob Lowe. Peterson is the sole suspect in the disappearance of Stacy Peterson, who has never been found. His first and second wives have remarried.
Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Cynthia Osterman