Drew Peterson Murder Case: Judge Considers Mistrial Again

Peterson's murder trial may be declared a mistrial after prosecutorial errors.

August 14, 2012, 4:05 PM

Aug. 14, 2012— -- The murder trial of former Illinois cop Drew Peterson may be called a mistrial after the judge overseeing the case blasted prosecutors today for ignoring his orders in the courtroom.

Judge Edward Burmila said he will rule Wednesday morning on whether to declare a mistrial in the case, according to ABC News station WLS. It is the third time in the three-week-long trial that Burmila has agreed to consider a mistrial request by the defense.

Peterson, 58, is accused of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Her death was originally declared an accidental drowning after she was found dead in her bathtub.

In 2007, however, Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished, and police exhumed Savio's body as part of the investigation into Stacy's disappearance. A new report by forensic pathologists found that Savio was murdered, and Peterson was charged with homicide.

Today, prosecutors in the murder case were told by Burmila not to mention a restraining order that Savio once asked for against Peterson.

One of the prosecutors then mentioned the restraining order in court, prompting Burmila to scold her in court.

The prosecutor apologized to the judge following the incident, but the defense called for a mistrial, arguing that the statement would unfairly influence the jury.

The judge heard arguments from both sides this afternoon about whether the prosecution's repeated missteps deserved to be called a mistrial.

"Do I isolate this incident, or take into account all three major incidents in which the defendant asked for a mistrial?" Burmila asked prosecutor Chris Koch.

"Isolation is the proper way to look at it, your honor," Koch responded.

Stephen Greenberg, Peterson's defense attorney, argued that Peterson deserved a fair trial and the prosecution had not allowed that to happen.

"Ultimately what matters is giving Mr. Peterson a fair trial," Greenberg said. "I don't think we can characterize this as inadvertent because there was a very clear ruling giving by this court beforehand, and the fact is the question should not have been asked."

Burmila also scolded the defense for asking only for a mistrial with prejudice, a ruling that would forbid the state from retrying Peterson for the murder of Savio. A ruling of mistrial without prejudice would allow the state to retry the case.

"So you only want the kind of mistrial you want?" Burmila asked. "You don't say to the court, 'We only want a mistrial the way we want a mistrial.' You file the mistrial, and then I'll decide if it's with prejudice or not."

Burmila previously denied two requests for mistrial based on prosecutorial missteps, both stemming from the prosecution's mention of evidence that had not been cleared yet by Burmila.

Legal wrangling over what evidence the jury is allowed to hear has played a pivotal role in the case against Peterson, as the prosecution tries to prove the murder charge by showing that Peterson intimidated his wife through actions and statements.

"So far, I think both sides have had good moments and both sides have had some tough moments. It is like any trial. When you get to week three, a little bit of fatigue sets in, so we will have to work through that. I think that the jurors will get a little bit fatigued. So hopefully we can keep it interesting," said Steven Greenberg, one of Peterson's attorneys.

Today's testimony also included statements from a toxicologist who processed tissue samples from Savio during the 2004 and 2007 death investigations. He testified that no drugs or alcohol were found in Savio's system at the time of her death, WLS reported.

Two pathologists were scheduled to take the stand this week for the prosecution, according to the WLS report. Both of them said Savio's death was a murder when they reexamined the body in the second autopsy. Drew Peterson's attorneys brought in experts to say Savio's original autopsy showed it was accidental.

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