Court ruling clears way for Peterson’s trial to start
HERALD-NEWS editorial April 18, 2012 8:42PM
Updated: May 21, 2012 8:32AM
Drew Petersen, perhaps the nation’s most famous accused killer, has sat in the Will County Jail for three years while the law fretted over how to try him.
The Illinois Appellate Court has given Will County prosecutors what they most wanted — voices from the grave. One voice belongs to his third wife, Kathleen Savio, whom he’s accused of killing, and the other is from his fourth wife, Stacy, whose disappearance in October 2007 adds to the mystery and sensationalism of the Peterson case.
When the appellate court ruled that more hearsay statements could be used against Peterson at trial, some purportedly made by Kathleen Savio before her March 2004 death, the last barrier for Peterson’s trial evaporated. It’s about time.
The prosecutors have won an unequivocal triumph for their case. The nearly universal prohibition against hearsay evidence — usually testimony by someone with second-hand, rather than direct, knowledge — has been breached. American law long has presumed that a defendant must be able to confront his accuser in court.
But prosecutors got the Legislature to change the law to create an exception (known as Drew’s Law) to allow selected hearsay. If the words in question were uttered by a murder victim about the accused killer, a court may consider them.
We’re not sure about the fairness of this change, and the delay in determining what hearsay evidence could be used at Peterson’s trial almost has us feeling something akin to sympathy for him. The state has a duty to produce a timely trial. That hasn’t happened.
So what does the court ruling mean for Peterson’s fate? The trial judge still can exclude the additional hearsay, but that seems unlikely now.
But allowing the jury to hear Savio’s words about her fear of Peterson and sense of dread, while dramatic, doesn’t mean that testimony will be credible.
No, her words from the grave won’t mean a slam-dunk case for prosecutors, but they believe the testimony can only help them remove reasonable doubt. At least the waiting is nearly over.