Pretrial trial puts Peterson on hot seat
Does hearsay testimony show he’s a kidder — or a killer?
Drove down to Joliet on Wednesday to see Drew Peterson, a first for me, so first things first. To borrow a cliche, he’s not as big as he looks on television — or in those photos where he’s shown standing alongside his missing wife, Stacy.
I’d put him at 6 feet tall, not nearly as imposing as I’d imagined.
What’s big, though, is his head. The guy has a huge head, large enough I’d guess to accommodate a larger-than-normal brain. Seeing that head really makes you think about what goes on inside it — in light of the accusations that Peterson got away with killing one wife and making another disappear.
If what Will County prosecutors want us to believe about Peterson is true, and I’m not saying it is, some scientist ought to get a look at that brain someday. As it is, they’ve still got a long way to go to prove their case, no matter how much we might believe he’s guilty as we follow along from home.
The oddest testimony Wednesday came from one of Peterson’s former fellow officers with the Bolingbrook police, who was asked by defense attorney Joel Brodsky to give examples of why Peterson had a reputation as a practical jokester.
“He put a live goose in the squad car one time,” recalled Richard Treece, who spent 15 years working with Peterson.
On another occasion, Treece said, Peterson bought a lottery ticket with the winning numbers from the previous day’s drawing, then put it in the office pile with the tickets for the earlier drawing, which had yet to be checked, causing everyone to think they’d won the jackpot. That Drew. What a card. Brodsky elicited the testimony to blunt the impact of many of Peterson’s alleged statements, such as his supposedly telling an earlier witness his police training would enable him to kill someone and get away with it. The idea is that Drew is always kidding around, and you can never take what he says seriously.
On Wednesday, a former Peterson girlfriend — a bartender he dated while married to third wife Kathy Savio, the one he’s accused of killing — testified he once left her behind at a friend’s house, telling her he was part of a “street death squad” and had some business to take care of.
Later, the police officer, Treece, recounted a 2004 conversation in a courthouse hallway where Peterson, angered by the sight of his divorce lawyer laughing it up with Savio’s lawyer, said “he’d be better off if that bitch was dead.”
You can see why there would be confusion about when Peterson is to be taken seriously.
They’re in the second week of a pretrial hearing to determine what hearsay evidence prosecutors will be allowed to use against Peterson at the real trial — the hearing was required under a new state law specifically designed to nail him.
I’ve gotta say I’ve been dubious about that law from the start.
It’s a dangerous business to make a law to go after a single person, and there’s no denying that’s what happened here with “Drew’s Law,” even though it will be in place to apply to others going forward.
I had expected, therefore, that the defense bar would be up in arms over allowing this type of hearsay evidence, but that’s apparently not the case.
We’ve always had exceptions to the rule that bars hearsay evidence, I was reminded, and it only makes common sense that such an exception should apply in a case where it can be proved that a defendant killed a witness to keep that person from testifying. Emphasis on proved.
The rules against hearsay are designed to protect the constitutional right of the accused to confront their accusers, which a defendant can’t really do if the accuser is dead. But if you’re responsible for killing that person, you can see that you shouldn’t be able to complain that you can’t crossexamine the victim.
The lawyers call this “forfeiture by wrongdoing,” and the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld the concept in a California case.
But the defense community is upset with Drew’s Law for another reason — that it requires this hearing, which is really a fullblown “pretrial trial.”
At the end of this hearing, Judge Stephen White will have to rule whether the “preponderance of the evidence” shows Peterson killed somebody to keep that person from testifying. If he agrees that it does, prosecutors could use the hearsay evidence in a trial at which they then would have to prove that Peterson is guilty by meeting the higher threshold of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The question is how Peterson gets a fair trial after White has made that ruling, and how White impartially presides over that trial. Some believe this will open the door for an appeal.
Peterson’s goose isn’t cooked just yet.