Sunday, May 20, 2018

In Peterson trial, jurors quickly confront hearsay

JOLIET, Ill. — As they began deliberations Wednesday, jurors in Drew Peterson's trial zeroed in immediately on the case's trickiest issue: whether to believe secondhand hearsay statements that would normally be barred from consideration in a criminal court.

Because of a botched initial investigation, detectives collected no fingerprints, strands of hair or any other physical evidence in the death of Peterson's third wife. So Illinois legislators passed a law aimed specifically at the former suburban Chicago police officer. It allowed prosecutors to pursue a conviction based substantially on statements made by Peterson's ex-wives to friends and acquaintances.

After less than two hours of deliberations, jurors sent notes to the judge asking for transcripts relating to hearsay that implicated Peterson. Kathleen Savio , 40, was found dead in her bathtub in 2004, her hair soaked in blood and a gash on her head.

They indicated just after 6 p.m. that they would resume deliberations this morning.

Some defense attorneys worry that the trial — the first in Illinois history to rely so heavily on hearsay — could fundamentally alter how prosecutors and defense attorneys handle murder cases in this state and around the country.

"The legal issues here are extraordinary," said Phil Turner, a Chicago defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. "If this sets a precedent, more people will get convicted because someone testifies that someone told them something."

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