A judge on Friday refused to move Drew Peterson's murder trial and said a law that prosecutors want to use to allow his ex-wife he's accused of killing to "testify from the grave" is constitutional.
Will County Judge Stephen White's rulings were setbacks for Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police officer who garnered national attention after the October 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. White also will decide which statements prosecutors can use at Peterson's trial.
Peterson, 55, has pleaded innocent to first-degree murder in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. He also is a suspect in Stacy Peterson's disappearance. He has denied wrongdoing.
Peterson's attorneys had asked to move the trial, saying the often extensive and often inflammatory publicity surrounding Peterson made it impossible to receive a fair trial in Will County. They also said that that during Peterson's three decades as a police officer he might have arrested or ticketed potential jurors and their family members.
Prosecutors argued that Peterson and his attorneys have themselves to blame for much of the publicity, pointing to the numerous interviews they have given on local and national media.
Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow also has said that his office would agree to a change of venue if it became clear during jury selection that a fair trial was impossible.
Peterson's attorney, Joel Brodsky, said the ruling on the change of venue was not a surprise. He said there still is a chance the judge could agree to moving the trial out of the county if it becomes clear during jury selection that prospective jurors are so biased against Peterson that he could not receive a fair trial.
White ruled that the state's so-called "hearsay" law is constitutional. Peterson's attorneys argued that it denies suspects' right to confront their accusers. But prosecutors said the Illinois law is in line with well-established federal law and, in fact, several other states have similar laws that have survived more than two dozen legal challenges.
Glasgow would not discuss which statements he intends to try to admit as evidence at the trial, but it is clear his office wants to let Savio herself tell jurors why Peterson wanted her dead.
"In essence, what you're basically allowing the victim of a violent crime to do is testify from the grave," he said shortly after Peterson was arrested in May.
Possible evidence in the case might include letters written by Savio, who was seeking orders of protection, in which she said Peterson would kill her to shut her up and her sister's testimony at a coroner's jury that Savio told her family it would be no accident if she died.
Brodsky said he has not decided whether to appeal the judge's decision on the hearsay law to the Illinois Supreme Court.