Dateline did a pretty solid and in-depth piece on Drew Peterson and his trial last week. You can check out the full video of the episode online. It seems to be the most complete discussion of the trial I have yet seen in one place, and is presently clearly and concisely. If you have followed the case, it’s a must see.
They ran parts of the statements from the jurors that agreed to speak to the press. I found it particularly insightful that the jurors (according to the foreman Eduardo Saldana) relied heavily on the hearsay evidence: including the controversial evidence that was admitted only thanks to a new law passed in Illinois that changed hundreds of years of courtroom procedure. He specifically referenced statements Stacy Peterson made to her divorce attorney about admissions Drew Peterson had made about Kathleen Savio’s death.
The defense team had seemed cocky earlier in the case. I wonder if they were banking on the jury disregarding the hearsay due to its reliability concerns. Having heard the prejudicial statements that were introduced, I’d say they were just too damaging, and they didn’t just come from one source. Collectively, the prosecutors were able to use the hearsay evidence to put on a relatively strong case against Peterson. Dateline’s Lester Holt categorized the verdict as “shocking.” I wouldn’t go that far, in spite of the lack of physical evidence, the testimonial evidence was devastating.
The jury has come back with a guilty verdict in the death of Peterson’s 3rd wife, Kathleen Savio. I’ve discussed before that I think there are substantial issues on appeal, though even an appellate court will be more concerned with publicity in this case than any other. This case was so highly charged and controversial that a new law was passed that changed the rules of evidence to let in normally inadmissible evidence. That goes in the face of hundreds of years of common law and one of the prime checks and balances of our jury system.
The case may not even make it to the appellate level, as I’m sure counsel will be filing a motion for new trial; or whatever the Illinois equivalent is. There were multiple errors that the prosecutors made that the judge could point to say the trial was too flawed to let the verdict. I don’t think he will, but it’s a possibility based on the way the trial played out. Well, maybe it is if is wasn’t such a high-profile case! I will continue to follow this case here, legally the appellate issues may be more interesting to me than the verdict itself, but I’m a law nerd.
Closing arguments concluded this afternoon. Jury deliberations will begin tomorrow morning. The Tribune’s live blog has some good highlights from arguments today.
The Drew Peterson case is winding to a close, with closing arguments beginning today. Crimesider has a brief summary of the case to date: it’s tough to break a month’s worth of evidence down to a few paragraphs. Defense lawyers were feeling good from the get go- it is a very tenuous criminal case. No matter what you think, the burden of proof will be hard to meet. The State scored a victory when they were allowed to introduce the testimony Peterson had tried to contract a killer to murder Kathleen Savio, his 4th wife. I think that’s damning enough character evidence that they may win their conviction, but have a major issue for appeal. On the other hand, weeks of character evidence in the Casey Anthony trial didn’t help prosecutors overcome the holes in their proof in that case. The deliberations will take several days, I think.
Jeff Ruby Mugshot
On the Jeff Ruby front, I didn’t know the judge had issued a warrant and thrown him in jail. I agree with the Tribune the judge probably had more important things to be worried about. (Does Illinois allow direct contempt if the judge doesn’t see it: any IL lawyers got any input on that?)
Update from the ABA journal: Drew Peterson defense attorneys put on testimony from a divorce attorney that 4th wife Stacy Peterson spoke to. He testified that she considered using the threat of accusing him of murder to gain an advantage in her potential divorce proceeding. Of course, she disappeared before any divorce proceeding could be commenced. Does this testimony help Peterson… or suggest more of a motive to have murdered Stacy? (He has not been charged in Stacy’s disappearance… yet.)
This won’t immediately affect Drew Peterson’s trial for allegedly murdering 3rd wife, Kathleen Savio, but Jeff Ruby has offered a major reward for help finding Stacy Peterson’s body; his 4th wife whose disappearance sparked the reopening of the investigation into Savio’s death. A few days ago, Ruby made news for being barred from the courtroom for making faces at Drew Peterson during the trial. He’s adding to the circus atmosphere, while simultaneously complaining about the lawyers antics.
In other news, the prosecution rested, and the defense has begun their case. Several witnesses have been called to cast doubt on the State’s witnesses. Again, the Tribune has running updates.
And finally, the jury has been coordinating their clothes for the duration of the trial, possibly taking their lead off a couple of defense attorneys (a husband and wife). It culminated in all of them wearing sports jerseys today (I see an Urlacher in the back row). Quirky and fun, and I’m sure a tension breaker for the long, hard work of sitting on this many-weeks trial.
Thanks to @kendallherold for the heads up on the Jeff Ruby story.
Famed Cincinnati steakhouse operator Jeff Ruby, who operates several restaurants around Cincinnati and the midwest, was barred from the courtroom in the Drew Peterson trial today. The Cincinnati Enquirer has had good coverage of this angle. Apparently Ruby just gets so worked up he can’t help himself on these high-profile murder cases.
I have to say I really get a kick out of the story of him kicking O.J. Simpson out of his restaurant one time. That’s great, and he’s a private businessman, who’s got a right to refuse service to whoever he wants. However, I get concerned as he nearly inserts himself into the trial of a case. He’s attacked the Defense attorneys, who are doing their duty to defend their client. The system doesn’t work without Defense attorneys advocating zealously for their client: justice does not happen in our adversarial system without strong representation of the accused.
I know I’m not going to convince Mr. Ruby to moderate his views. The Enquirer article delineates why the issue is so personal to him, and I respect that. I would just hope that he would reciprocate the decorum and professionalism he decries the defense attorneys for not displaying. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And he’s well within his rights to decline to let them into his restaurants.
via Crimesiders: Judge allows prosecutors to introduce testimony from a would-be hitman that Peterson tried to hire him to kill wife Savio, months before her death. This is a coup for prosecutors, as the judge receded from an earlier ruling excluding the testimony. The risk is that it creates an issue for appeal: the testimony is only tenuously linked to her death by drowning, supposedly for his state of mind to be willing to kill her. It’s highly prejudicial, and is substantially more important for prosecutors as character evidence, which is generally inadmissible. It’s a reach to say his earlier interest in killing her does not go to his character, or that his state of mind can be separated from his character. It may be an interesting question on appeal.
The prosecutors are probably more than happy to run the risk of appeal, as their case has not appeared too strong. I’m judging this on the Defense team’s withdrawal of their 3rd motion for mistrial: they think they are winning. Prosecutors are willing to run the risk of losing on appeal if they can pull out a win at trial. If they don’t win at trial, they don’t get another crack at him. If a conviction is overturned on appeal, they get another shot at trial without that evidence (and hopefully without the errors that prompted the mistrial motions.)
I think this ruling substantially increases the likelihood of conviction. The hitman evidence is highly prejudicial in spite of its low probative value to the elements of this case. I’m sure Peterson’s attorneys will score points regarding the hitman’s credibility, but it will be tough to overcome this testimony.
The cynic in me wonders if the judge’s change of heart is motivated by the way the case is going. That is, what if he figured the prosecutors are losing, so he figured he let them throw in everything including the kitchen sink. If Peterson walked, he could take some flak for excluding such evidence. If he’s convicted and overturned, the trial goes again, and he doesn’t get much heat at all. Gamblers, I think the likelihood of conviction just went up by a lot…
I haven’t been able to follow the Peterson trial closely, but I wanted to throw out this update. According to CBSNews, this is the 3rd time the Defense has asked the judge to declare a mistrial based on the prosecutors’ missteps. For the judge to mis-try the case and be forced to try it over again with a new jury, the error must be pretty severe (such as in the Roger Clemens trial when inadmissible video statements were played to that jury.) However, multiple small errors can add up to a major concern that the jury might be prejudiced and can also trigger a mistrial.
The most recent error was an improper question, which standing alone generally isn’t enough for a mistrial. But if the judge feels there has been a pattern, he may grant the request, and the trial will start all over again with picking a new jury. Nobody really wants that.
Update: Peterson withdraws request for mistrial. His attorneys say they like this jury and don’t want to start over with a new one; which is what they said after picking this jury. The judge did give the jury a cautionary instruction regarding the Prosecutor’s improper question.