The hearsay evidence the appellate court allowed against accused wife-killer Drew Peterson may not make it into his murder trial after all.
Will County Judge Edward Burmila balked at crossing retired Judge Stephen White, who presided over the Peterson case before hanging up his robe and gavel in 2010.
While he was on in the Peterson case, White decided eight of 14 hearsay statements prosecutors want to use against Peterson lacked reliability.
Prosecutors appealed White's ruling and won. The appeal was based on judging the hearsay statements under law that does not take reliability into consideration. White had retired in the meantime and Burmila inherited the case, and he did not seem eager to let in what White wanted kept out.
"There's no way I can simply ignore findings made by Judge White," Burmila said Wednesday following hours of secret, closed door hearings.
But while Burmia said he can't ignore White, he didn't say he's necessarily abiding by his predecessor's ruling either. Burmila invited prosecutors and defense attorneys to send him case law supporting their claims by Saturday.
Assistant State's Attorney Colleen Griffin pushed for Burmila to make a decision before jury selection starts Monday morning, presumably so prosecutors can file an appeal if the judge doesn't go their way. But Burmila snapped back at Griffin that she wasn't about to tell him what to do.
"You don't tell me when I'm going to rule," Burmila barked at Griffin.
"You're not going to tell me now that I have to rule at your pace," he said.
Prosecutors added two more hearsay statements they want to use against Peterson after their triumph in the appellate court in April. Of these 16, Burmila has given the green light to seven.
He may rule—when he feels like ruling—that the other nine are allowed in as well. He can also decide to keep them out. And Burmila also has the option to rule on each as they are testified to at trial.
Defense attorney Steve Greenberg said that third scenario would be "like every other criminal case," where after witnesses testify they "get the crap cross-examined out of them and the jury's going to decide if they're telling the truth."
Peterson has been jailed since May 2009 on charges he murdered his third wife, Kathleen Savio, who was found drowned in a dry bathtub in March 2004. The state police insisted Savio died accidentally, but abruptly decided she was the victim of a homicide when Peterson's next wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished in October 2007.
Stacy Peterson remains missing. The but have yet to charge him with harming her.
The 16 hearsay statements were supposedly spoken by either Stacy or Savio and will be relayed through witnesses claiming to have heard them. Judge White already ruled that it was more likely than not that Drew Peterson killed both women to keep them from testifying against him.
Following Wednesday's day-long session, James Glasgow was asked repeatedly if he would attempt to appeal if Burmila happens to exlude nine of the 16 hearsay statements.
"I'm not going to try to guess what the judge is going to do or not going to do," Glasgow said, although he conceded that he expects Burmila to make a decision before the start of jury selection. So did Peterson's lawyers.
"We're ready to go," said defense attorney Joseph "Shark" Lopez. "Monday morning."