As Drew Peterson’s murder trial begins today for the third week, testimony is set to center on whether his former wife’s death was an accident or a homicide. Kathleen Savio’s death was ruled an accidental drowning in her bathtub back in 2004. After Drew Peterson’s fourth wife Stacy Peterson went missing three years later, authorities reexamined the Savio case and exhumed her body. A second autopsy reclassified the death as a homicide. Two years later the former Bolingbrook police officer, Drew Peterson, was charged in her murder.
According to the Chicago Tribune, prosecutors must deal with their first hurdle in this case, convincing jurors that Kathleen Savio was in fact murdered and did not drown accidentally given the conflicting autopsies. Three autopsies have been done to date. Last week a police officer testified in the trial that Dr. Bryan Mitchell, now deceased, told him he thought the death should be labeled as an “undetermined” cause back in 2004.
Prosecutors plan to call two pathologists this week to testify that this was a murder. Dr. Larry Blum performed the second autopsy in 2007 and determined the pattern of injuries on Savio’s body indicated homicide. Dr. Michael Baden then performed a third autopsy and came to the same conclusion.
The defense will attack the later autopsies in 2007 from multiple angles. One will be that the results are flawed since Savio’s body had deteriorated greatly due to water that had seeped into the coffin. Paul DeLuca, a former prosecutor, told the Chicago Sun Times that, “The pathology is going to be very significant. That could be the whole case”.
Drew Peterson’s defense team has their own forensic experts, including Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen. He has testified in the past that Savio’s injuries were consistent with a fall in her bathtub or in the normal course of her day. Prosecutors however, believe Drew choked Kathleen unconscious with a sleeper hold, drowned her in the tub, then struck her head to make it look like an accident.
Another hurdle for the prosecution is that even if they convince the jury that this was a murder, no evidence ties Peterson directly to the crime. The prosecution case is circumstantial which is why the eight hearsay statements by key witnesses is so vital to their case. The statements revolve largely around death threats made to Savio by Drew Peterson on different occasions, and Judge Burmila has indicated he will rule which may come in as evidence on a case by case basis.
Last week four of the eight statements came in when a former roommate, a school friend, and Savio’s sister all testified about incidents that Savio told them of Drew threatening her life. Savio’s boyfriend recounted events surrounding the discovery of Savio’s body.