Click HERE to watch this week’s CrimeLine, where Jon Leiberman and I discuss the latest in the Drew Peterson murder trial. The trial kicked off Tuesday, and just like the case itself, the trial saw some unexpected twists. During opening arguments, the state mentioned that Drew Peterson had previously hired a hit man to kill his ex-wife, Kathleen Savio, a detail the state had never shared with the defense during discovery and one defense attorney Joel Brodsky immediately objected to. The jury was quickly ushered out of the courtroom and while the defense argued for a mistrial, the judge decided the prosecution hadn’t gotten far enough in the damning statement to warrant a mistrial. The jury was called back to the courtroom and instructed to disregard the statement. Yet, as the defense questioned, can the bell be un-rung?
Other than that unexpected statement, the state’s opening proceeded as normal. In my opinion, the strongest part of the state’s opening was laying all the cards on the table and telling jurors point blank that there is no physical evidence in the case, no DNA or fingerprints, and that this case relies solely on circumstantial evidence. The reason this is important is because the state laid out for jurors their task at hand, they must work to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It was important to say this in the beginning so the jury isn’t led to believe the state has strong evidence and then disappointed when they cannot present it. The state was honest and, more importantly, presented a clear task for the jury. Sometimes cases with only circumstantial evidence can still be strong because jurors like to work together to put the puzzle together themselves.
As for the defense, they laid out their game plan, which is to create reasonable doubt at every step along the way. This could’ve been an accident. The hearsay statements aren’t reliable. What was bizarre about their opening is the fact that Joel Brodsky spent a chunk of time praising the team of attorneys on the defense, and then going through Peterson’s entire life story. The prosecution objected, and the judge, rightly so, told the defense this was all irrelevant and he seemed visibly annoyed by the tactic.
Day 1 also saw the testimony of neighbor Mary Pontarelli, who I believe was a strong witness for both the state and the defense. On one hand, she specifically said there were no clothes laying on the bathroom floor or towel and that Kathleen would also pin her hair up to take a bath, but that her hair was down in this instance. She also said she could often see Kathleen’s bathroom light on and that she was taking a bath from her own window and that she had not seen Kathleen taking a bath that night. Both of those statements were a plus for the prosecution. However, she also said that Drew looked visibly upset when he saw Kathleen’s body and that the first thing he said was “what am I going to tell my kids.” Pontarelli said Drew also instructed them not to touch the body as it was now a crime scene. Those two statements, in my opinion, were a plus for the defense.
Now, after all the fireworks we saw on Day 1, I assumed the rest of the trial would play out pretty smoothly. Wrong. Day 2 was cut short after prosecutors came in with a line of questioning the defense did not see coming. They asked Mary’s husband, Tom, about whether he felt intimidated by Drew Peterson and then about an instance where Drew allegedly left a bullet facing up in their driveway. The defense immediately objected and again called for a mistrial. That’s two motions for mistrial in as many days. The court was adjourned for the day and then the judge decided to strike only that part of the testimony and move on with the trial.
The reason this is important is now the defense has not one, but two grounds for appeal should Drew Peterson be convicted. Peterson’s defense point blank said he is getting an unfair trial and you better believe if he’s convicted they will immediately file an appeal, one thats likely to be successful. Prosecutors overstepped their boundaries on two occasions, and twice jurors were told not to consider pretty inflammatory statements. Not to mention this jury is made up of a pool of jurors on hold for three years, told not to follow the case for the last three years, which is another major issue.
I’ll be following the case closely and be sure to tune into The CrimeLine every Tuesday at 4:30 for a discussion of the latest in the bizarre trial.