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?)
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…