Before Kathleen Savio was found dead six years ago, drowned mysteriously in her bathtub, her husband Drew Peterson grabbed her by the neck, brandished a knife and threatened to kill her, according to an acquaintance who said Savio had confided in him.
Witnesses who testified today were the first of about 60 who are expected to detail alleged conversations with Savio in which she expressed her fear of Peterson or witnessed confrontations between Savio and Peterson.
The hearing is expected to last a week and prosecutors are hoping a judge will permit the hearsay testimony, essentially allowing Savio, who was Peterson's third wife, to testify from the grave in Peterson's eventual murder trial.
Issam Karam told the court today that before her death in 2004, Savio told him about an incident in which Peterson allegedly put a knife to her neck and threatened to kill her. Karam and Savio worked together at a graphics company in Romeoville, Ill.
Karam testified that Savio told him she came home one night looking forward to a bath and glass of wine when Peterson threw her to the floor and grabbed her by the throat.
"[Peterson] said nothing that she could do would make her safe," Karam said. "She could not run or hide. He could kill her there and then."
Another co-worker Lisa Mordente testified she witnessed Savio and the former Bolingbrook police sergeant fighting over money.
Many of the witnesses the prosecution plans to call to testify against Peterson during the trial are expected to take the stand during the current hearing.
The hearing stems from a recently passed state law nicknamed "Drew's Law" that allows judges to admit hearsay testimony in first-degree murder cases if prosecutors can prove a defendant killed a witness to prevent him or her from testifying.
The Illinois Legislature passed the law after authorities named Peterson a suspect in 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife Stacy.
No charges were ever filed against Peterson in Stacy's disappearance, but investigators reopened the 2004 death of Savio, which had initially been ruled an accidental drowning. Savio's body was exhumed and Peterson was charged with her death.
Peterson, who attended today's hearing, is in jail awaiting trial.
Peterson has pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering Savio.
Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow has said allowing Savio's acquaintances to testify as to why Peterson wanted to kill her.
"In essence, what you're basically allowing the victim of a violent crime to do is testify from the grave," Glasgow, who pushed for passage of the bill, told reporters in May.
"All it is, is rumor, innuendo and gossip," defense attorney Joel Brodsky told the Associated Press.
Soon after Stacy Peterson, 24, disappeared on Oct. 28, 2007, Peterson, 55, became the focus of that investigation. His nonchalance about his wife's disappearance set off a media storm and led investigators to look back at Savio's death. The Associated Press contributed to this report