Judge to rule Oct. 2 on moving Drew Peterson case

Saturday, August 15, 2009

JOLIET, Ill. -- Hundreds of potential jurors in the murder trial of former police officer Drew Peterson were asked to fill out questionnaires Friday, although no trial date has been set and Peterson wants the trial moved.

Will County Judge Stephen White said he was proceeding under the assumption that the trial would remain in the county, and was trying to protect a jury pool. White later heard arguments on whether Peterson's trial should be moved, and said he'll rule Oct. 2.

After potential jurors entered the courtroom Friday, Peterson, wearing a gray suit, stood and greeted them.

Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge in the 2004 death of his third wife Kathleen Savio, whose body was found in a dry bathtub.

Savio's death was originally ruled an accident. But after Peterson was named a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, in October 2007, Savio's body was exhumed. Her death was ruled a homicide after a new autopsy was conducted.

Peterson attorney Reem Odeh said much of the intense publicity surrounding the case has been negative and inflammatory, making it impossible for Peterson to get a fair trial in Will County. She said there also was a chance Peterson arrested or ticketed potential jurors or their family members during his three decades as a police officer.

Prosecutors said there is no reason to move the case, especially since Peterson and his attorneys courted much of the publicity on television and radio shows. But Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow says he'd agree to a venue change if it became clear during jury selection that a fair trial was impossible.

White planned to have 240 people fill out questionnaires Friday. He gave potential jurors a list of 493 people whose names could come up during the trial to see if they knew any them. the judge also instructed the group to avoid media coverage of the case, which has received worldwide attention, and not to look it up on the Internet.

Peterson's attorneys said it was very unusual for a judge to begin the jury-selection process months before the start of a trial and that it would be difficult for potential jurors to avoid publicity.

White will also hear on Oct. 2 a motion filed by Peterson's attorneys challenging the constitutionality of a hearsay law passed in Illinois in 2008 and widely viewed as a response to the case.

Prosecutors have said the law would allow Savio to "testify from the grave" by admitting into evidence her past statements that she believed Peterson wanted her dead.

But Peterson's attorneys said in their motion that the law "would allow gossip, innuendo, rumor and back fence scandal to come into a court of law and masquerade as evidence."

Peterson has been jailed on $20 million bail since his arrest in May. A judge refused to reduce his bail after prosecutors claimed he tried to pay someone $25,000 to kill Savio before allegedly drowning her himself.

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