Click HERE to watch this week’s CrimeLine, where Jon Leiberman and I discuss the latest in crime headlines this week, including the change of plea for Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner and the latest in the Aurora shooter’s case and the Drew Peterson trial. Loughner was originally scheduled to face the judge Tuesday for a competency hearing to determine whether he had yet to understand the charges he faces in the January 2011 Tucson shooting rampage that left 6 dead and 13 wounded. However, the judge determined prior to the hearing that after months of being forcibly medicated for schizophrenia, the 23-year-old is now capable of understand the nature of the charges he faces. Loughner plead guilty Tuesday, which spares him the death penalty, a move former Congressman Gabby Giffords, who was critically injured in the attack, says she is satisfied with.
In a statement, Giffords husband Mark Kelly wrote, “We don’t speak for all of the victims or their families, but Gabby and I are satisfied with this plea agreement. The pain and loss caused by the events of January 8, 2011 are incalculable. Avoiding a trial will allow us — and we hope the whole Southern Arizona community — to continue with our recovery and move forward with our lives.”
This case has several parallels to the Aurora mass shooting spree, most notably that both alleged shooters were discussed among university threat assessment team members. Dr. Lynne Fenton had alerted the school committee that his behavior was cause for concern, yet he was never investigated since he announced his intent to withdraw from the school. Similarly, Loughner was suspended from Pima Community College after he was identified as a person of concern by his school’s threat assessment team. Just as Pima Community College faces a lawsuit for failing to do more, I believe we’ll see a similar suit launched against the University of Colorado.
Turning to the Drew Peterson trial, after the first week of missteps by the prosecution, including two motions for mistrial for statements that jurors were eventually told not to consider, it seems at least in Day 1 of Week 2, the prosecution is coming out on top. Last week, the state’s comments that Drew Peterson had previously hired a hitman, and later testimony regarding alleged threats he made to his neighbor, only proved even more so how weak their case is. Those comments were irrelevant and unnecessary, but clearly the state felt they needed to paint a certain picture of Drew to convince jurors given the lack of physical evidence in the case.
However, the state came out with three witnesses Tuesday who all dealt blows to the defense. First, deputy coroner Michael VanOver took the stand and discussed what he believed to be suspicious signs that Savio’s death was more than just an accident. He mentioned the fact that there was no soap scum on the bathtub, that no shampoo or other bottles had been knocked down if she had indeed fallen, and that her body was mysteriously positioned if it was indeed a fall. Even more damning, he said he did not follow suspicious death protocols to ensure the evidence was handled in a way it could be preserved because investigators had said their was no need and had already drawn their conclusions. This shows a botched initial investigation, which only furthers the state’s theory that claims of an accident, rather than a homicide, was due to a shoddy investigation. Also lending to that theory was the fact that state police investigator Robert Deel had failed to place a bottle of spot carpet cleaner in the bedroom into evidence. Finally, the last blow to the defense came from Bolingbrook Police Lt James Coughlin, who testified that just weeks before Savio’s death Drew had told him, “my life would be easier if she were dead.”
While I’m calling week one of the Drew Peterson case in favor of the defense, it seems so far in week 2 the prosecution has the upper hand. For more analysis, follow me on Twitter @MariFagel and tune into The CrimeLine on Spreecast each week.