Judge Burmila to rule on mistrial motion
By DiMarkco Chandler:
When Drew Peterson steps in the courtroom Thursday Morning, he is hoping that Judge Edward Burmila will declare a mistrial. The Peterson murder trial, which began on Tuesday, experienced a stunning development on Wednesday morning. While Assistant State’s Attorney Kathleen Patton was questioning Savio’s neighbor, Tom Pontarelli, she prompted the witness to testify about a .38-caliber bullet that he found in his driveway. Instantly, Peterson’s defense attorney objected, while a noticeably upset Judge Burmila forced Patton to admit she coundn’t prove Peterson put the bullet in the driveway.
After admonishing the prosecutors, Burmila speculated aloud, whether the testimony made Peterson appear menacing in jurors’ eyes and undermined his ability to get a fair trial.
In addition to considering a potential mistrial, Burmila also could possibly find the state deliberately entered testimony explicitly barred in advance of the trial — a ruling that would mean Peterson can’t be tried again for murder in Savio’s death and would be freed, according to Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago defense attorney with no ties to the Peterson case.
At the time of the mishap, Peterson’s defense attorneys asked for a mistrial, and judge Burmila seemed poised to rule on their request as he called for a long break in the proceedings. Once Burmila had time to consider the damage, he returned to the courtroom, offering the defense the more moderate options of throwing out all or parts of Pontarelli’s testimony.
The defense was also given the option of keeping the cross-examination with Pontarelli on the record.
Prosecutors later said, they had no intention of misleading the jury and that they were just trying to show that Peterson’s wife as well as neighbors may have been intimidated by Peterson.
Pontarelli, who lived down the street from where Savio and Peterson once shared a home, described the night in 2004 when he and his wife entered Savio’s home to check on her with Drew Peterson lagging behind them. Pontarelli said he heard his wife, Mary Pontarelli, scream from the upstairs bathroom and ran up to find Savio in a “clean, pristine,” tub, noting that there was “no soap scum on the tub” and there were no towels in the bathroom.
Peterson had asked Pontarelli’s wife, Mary, for help getting into Savio’s home one Monday night in February when he was trying to drop their children off after they spent a weekend in his custody. Mary Pontarelli and Drew Peterson had a locksmith open the front door, and were joined by Thomas Pontarelli when they entered the home to look for Savio.
Pontarelli said that on the night they found Savio, Peterson stepped out into the hall and made a call on his cell phone.
“He said he just found his wife dead in the bath tub and people will think he did it,” Pontarelli said in court today.
Savio’s 2004 death was initially declared an accident, but when Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished without explanation in 2007, Savio’s body was exhumed and reexamined. A new report ruled that Savio had been murdered, and Peterson was charged with homicide.
The two were in the middle of a bitter divorce and Drew had already begun seeing Stacy at the time of Savio’s death.
Pontarelli was the second witness called in the trial, following his wife’s testimony on Monday in which she described the same night’s events.
Peterson, who was a police officer in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Savio’s death. He also has said he wasn’t responsible for his fourth wife’s disappearance.
The legal snafus are just the latest twist in a case long plagued by problems, including a botched initial investigation that left prosecutors with no physical evidence and forced them to rely heavily on normally prohibited hearsay.
The mistrial decision comes before prosecutors have even presented the most delicate of the hearsay evidence, including Savio’s alleged remarks to others about Peterson threatening to kill her before her body was found in a dry bathtub at her Bolingbrook home.
Drew Peterson has denied any involvement in Savio’s death and Stacy Peterson’s disappearance, even as the majority of public opinion remains suspicious. Peterson has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in the death of Savio.
Peterson has said he expects to be found innocent of Savio’s murder and has maintained a seemingly cavalier attitude since his arrest.
As he was being led into court, Peterson, handcuffed, joked with reporters, saying, “What about this bling? Look at this bling. Three squares a day in this spiffy outfit. How can you beat that? Look at this bling. My God.”
Even when he was first arrested, he joked, “I guess I should have returned those library books.”
Last week, Peterson, who is being held at the Will County jail, defended his behavior.
“Well, there is no book written on how I’m supposed to act… would it be better if I hid my head down and tried to hide my face and hunched over and tears in my eyes? I mean, no, that’s just not me.”
Peterson is also considered a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy.
Prosecutors are hoping they can enter into evidence writings from Savio when she was in the midst of her divorce from Peterson, that she feared her husband’s “next step is to take my children away or kill me.”
A new Illinois state law allows such statements only if the witness was killed to prevent him or her from testifying.
Nevertheless, the trial will go no further until Judge Burmila rules on the defense’s mistrial motion. Experts believe that the chances of Peterson receiving a favorable ruling on the mistrial motion very unlikely.