Prosecution: Death of Drew Peterson’s wife ‘staged to look like an accident’

Prosecution: Death of Drew Peterson’s wife ‘staged to look like an accident’

By NBC News wire services

JOLIET, Ill. – Nearly a decade after his third wife was found dead in a bathtub, the murder trial of former police officer Drew Peterson began Tuesday, with the prosecution insisting that the crime scene in which Kathleen Savio was discovered was “staged.”

“Kathleen Savio’s cold, lifeless body was found in her bathtub … and it was staged to look like an accident,” state attorney James Glasgow told the court, reported The Chicago Sun-Times.

Savio, 40, was found dead in a dry bathtub in 2004 by Peterson and some neighbors. Peterson’s fourth wife, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson, vanished without a trace in 2007.  The defense has described Savio’s death as a tragic accident, and they have said Stacy Peterson, whose body has never been found, may have run off with another man.

Savio’s neighbors are expected to testify Tuesday for the prosecution. The prosecution also plans to call to the stand a locksmith who went to Savio’s home the night her body was found, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Prosecutors say Peterson killed Savio because he feared their pending divorce settlement would wipe him out financially. And they believe he killed Stacy, in part, because she knew about Savio’s death.

Peterson started dating Stacy Coles in 2001 — two years before his marriage with Savio dissolved.

After learning that Peterson took Stacy on a vacation to Mexico in January 2001, Savio had requested an order of protection.

“She files (the petition) with lies, stupid, ridiculous statements,” defense attorney Joe Brodsky told jurors on Tuesday in his opening statement, reported The Tribune.

Glasgow painted Peterson as growing increasingly violent, upping his threats as Savio told him she would take his pension and other assets after their divorce, reported The Tribune.

When a judge ordered him to pay Savio’s divorce attorney $15,000 in 2003, Peterson “snuck into the victim’s home, grabbed Kathy Savio by the throat and said, ‘Why don’t you just die? I could kill you and no one would know,'” Glasgow said.

The two filed for divorce in 2003. Peterson had moved out of the home he shared with Savio, and Savio by that point had dropped the order of protection, which Brodsky told jurors suggested she was lying about Peterson being violent.

“Never again do you hear of Kathy getting an order of protection,” Brodsky said, according to The Tribune. “She knew how to get one – but all this stuff about (Peterson’s) threats, breaking into her house, Kathy never got another order of protection. You have to ask yourself why.”

The real-life drama inspired a TV movie and a national spotlight was put on the case, with speculation about whether Peterson used his law-enforcement expertise in a bid to get away with the murder of Savio and to make Stacy Peterson disappear.

Peterson, a former police sergeant in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, was charged with first-degree murder in Savio’s death only after Stacy Peterson went missing. He is a suspect in her disappearance but hasn’t been charged.

Jurors in the case include a part-time poet, a letter carrier and a research technician whose favorite TV show is “Criminal Minds.”

Little to no physical evidence for prosecutors A botched initial investigation into Savio’s death left prosecutors with scant-to-no physical evidence, forcing them to rely heavily on hearsay evidence — statements not heard directly by a witness — which is normally barred at trials.

Glasgow has said previously that Savio and Stacy Peterson will effectively speak to jurors through witnesses who can describe how Drew Peterson allegedly told his wives he could murder them and make it look like an accident.

But Judge Edward Burmila has said he would decide which hearsay statements to admit only as testimony proceeds, so Glasgow will have to decide whether to risk mentioning statements to jurors that the judge might later prohibit.

“The last thing you want to do is make an opening about what jurors will hear, telling them the case hinges on what they’ll hear — and then they don’t hear it,” Chicago-based attorney Michael Helfand said.

By presenting what they regard as overwhelming hearsay and circumstantial evidence, Zellner said prosecutors will want to show jurors the only possible explanation for Savio’s death is that Peterson killed her.

In the case of Stacy Peterson, Burmila has warned prosecutors they can’t tell jurors Drew Peterson is responsible for her disappearance or refer to authorities’ belief that she is dead.

Attorneys on both sides will have to find the right terminology in talking about the missing fourth wife, said Brodsky, who added that the sides might be able to use the awkward phrase “she is no longer available.”The strange circumstances surrounding Peterson’s last two wives have drawn national attention to the case. In January, Lifetime television aired a movie about the case called “Untouchable,” starring Rob Lowe as Drew Peterson. The movie garnered record ratings of nearly 6 million viewers for the network.