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Judge: Peterson murder trial in jeopardy

Associated Press Modified: August 1, 2012 at 11:46 pm •  Published: August 1, 2012
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JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — A visibly angry judge said Wednesday he will consider declaring a mistrial at Drew Peterson's murder trial after a second major blunder by prosecutors in as many days, once again illustrating how the high-profile case has been beset by problems from the outset.

Judge Edward Burmila's blistering rebuke came after prosecutors' second witness suggested Peterson may have put a .38-caliber bullet in his driveway to intimidate him, which prompted Burmila to worry aloud in court whether the former police officer could get a fair trial.

The 58-year-old Peterson is charged with first-degree murder in 2004 death of his third wife, 40-year-old Kathleen Savio.

"What is the purpose of you trying to tell the jury that this man (Peterson) put a bullet on the driveway?" the judge said, his voice booming, after sending jurors out of the courtroom. "This is completely troubling ... it makes no sense whatsoever."

Later, before announcing he would only rule on a defense motion for a mistrial Thursday, Burmila added, "The testimony (prosecutors) presented was a low blow in this case."

It was the latest twist in a case plagued by problems for years — including a botched initial investigation that left prosecutors with no physical evidence and forced them to hang their case on hearsay evidence, which is typically barred.

The mistrial decision comes before prosecutors could even present the most delicate of hearsay evidence: "From the grave" statements, as attorneys for the state described them, that Savio allegedly made to others about Peterson threatening to kill her well before her body was found in her bathtub.

Peterson's attorneys will surely challenge those statements, as well as some made by Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, before she vanished in 2007. She also allegedly told friends and relatives that her husband said he could kill her and make it look like an accident.

But Burmila has ordered the prosecution to stay away from some of those hearsay statements, including a pastor's claim that Stacy Peterson told him Drew Peterson admitted he killed Savio. If the pastor says that on the stand, it would certainly prompt defense attorneys to again ask for a mistrial.

On Thursday, Burmila must decide if he will wipe out the testimony of one of Peterson's neighbors, Thomas Pontarelli, and then let the trial go on — something he said he could possibly do as an alternative to effectively cancelling the trial.

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