When is a preliminary hearing like a murder trial? When it’s the case of former police officer Drew Peterson in northern Illinois. The Associated Press reports that for more than three weeks, family members, investigators, clergy, and even a psychic have testified in an extraordinary hearing to determine what hearsay, or second-hand, evidence jurors will be allowed to hear during Peterson’s trial in his third wife’s death. The testimony has exposed serious flaws in the police investigation of Kathleen Savio’s death, Peterson’s deteriorating relationship with his missing fourth wife, and perhaps most important: a possible motive.
”If they don’t get the hearsay stuff in, then they don’t have a shot at this case,” said Terry Sullivan, a former prosecutor. Peterson is the only named suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, but has not been charged in that case. It was after she went missing that investigators exhumed Savio’s body and determined her death was a homicide. More than 60 prosecution witnesses have testified; defense attorneys plan to call 20 witnesses to contradict statements made by people who said the two women feared Peterson. The hearing is the result of a new Illinois law that allows a judge to admit hearsay evidence — statements not based on a witness’ direct knowledge — if prosecutors can prove a defendant may have killed a witness in order to prevent him or her from testifying. The law was so closely linked to the Peterson case that some have dubbed it ”Drew’s law.” Prosecutors, with little physical evidence on which to base their case against Peterson, may have to rely heavily on statements that Savio and Stacy Peterson allegedly made to others.