Witness testifies that ex-Ill. cop Drew Peterson threw wife to floor, threatened to kill her

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Witness: Former Ill. cop threatened to kill wife

JOLIET, Ill. — Former police officer Drew Peterson threw his ex-wife to the floor one night, grabbed her throat and told her he “could kill her there and then,” a one-time co-worker of the woman testified Tuesday at a hearing to determine what evidence can be admitted in Peterson’s murder trial.

Kathleen Savio, who mysteriously drowned in a bathtub six years ago, essentially is testifying from the grave during the hearing. Witnesses are telling a judge how Savio discussed fears that Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, would kill her. Prosecutors, meanwhile, are offering the first detailed look at evidence they contend ties Peterson to Savio’s 2004 death.

The hearing stems from a state law that allows a judge to admit hearsay evidence in first-degree murder cases if prosecutors can prove a defendant killed a witness to prevent him or her from testifying. The law was passed after authorities named Peterson a suspect in the October 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, then exhumed Savio’s body and reopened her death investigation.

Issam Karam, who said he worked with Savio at Parkway Imaging and Graphics in Romeoville in late 2003, testified Savio told him she had come home one night looking forward to a bath and glass of wine when Peterson threw her to the floor. Savio said she already had changed the home’s locks.

Karam said Peterson grabbed Savio’s throat and had a knife. Savio showed him a bruise on her arm, Karam said.

“(Peterson) said nothing that she could do would make her safe,” Karam said. “She could not run or hide. He could kill her there and then.”

Another witness, Savio’s boss, testified that a number of times a Bolingbrook squad car was parked in front of her Romeoville business while Savio was inside. Lisa Mordente said that on one occasion, Savio was returning from lunch and approached another vehicle parked outside and spoke to a man inside. Mordente testified that Savio told her it was Peterson outside and they were fighting over money.

“She was very shaken up when she came back in, her hand was shaking, she had tears, she was a mess,” Mordente said.

Mordente’s testimony highlighted what is sure to be a key part of the trial — the fact that Peterson was a police officer. His attorneys have raised questions about why witnesses didn’t notify police if they believed Savio feared Peterson.

Mordente said she didn’t call police when she learned Savio died because Savio herself had said calling police wouldn’t do any good.

Police were called to the couple’s Bolingbrook home eighteen times in two years. One of Peterson’s former colleagues, Lt. James Coughlin, testified about responding to a disturbance at the home during which Savio declined to press charges because she thought Peterson might lose his job and pension.

Coughlin also recalled seeing Peterson at the Will County Courthouse during his divorce from Savio and Peterson commenting that his “life would be a lot easier if she was dead or dying.” Coughlin didn’t take it seriously enough to report at the time, which was the month before Savio died.

During the hearing, prosecutors will present to Will County Judge Stephen White about 60 witnesses to testify about 15 hearsay statements. White will then decide if a jury can hear any or all of those statements when Peterson stands trial. Peterson has pleaded not guilty to murdering Savio, whose body was found in a dry tub. A trial date hasn’t been set.

While neither side has talked much about the evidence in the case, from the day Peterson was arrested, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow has made it clear allowing Savio to tell jurors why Peterson wanted her dead is crucial to his case.

“In essence, what you’re basically allowing the victim of a violent crime to do is testify from the grave,” Glasgow, who pushed for passage of the bill, told reporters in May shortly after Peterson was arrested.

The death initially was ruled an accidental drowning — until Stacy Peterson’s disappearance led officials to exhume Savio’s body, conduct another autopsy and conclude Savio was the victim of a homicide. Drew Peterson has not been charged in Stacy Peterson’s disappearance.

It remained a mystery Tuesday exactly how prosecutors planned to link Savio’s death to Stacy Peterson’s disappearance, but became clear they would try to do so. The day began with testimony about surveillance video from a Bolingbrook Starbucks on the day of the disappearance that showed a vehicle similar to Drew Peterson’s. The last witness was a Sprint Nextel official who talked about three phone calls that night from Peterson’s area code.

Stacy Peterson’s uncle, Kyle Toutges, testified Tuesday that shortly after Savio’s death some of Drew Peterson’s friends teased him at a party that it looked suspicious that Savio died as the two were amid property settlements.

“(Peterson) said ‘Let them prove it,’” Toutges said.

The list of witnesses remains under seal, but members of Savio’s family also are expected to testify.

Peterson’s attorneys have made clear they will attack the credibility of at least some of the witnesses.

“All it is, is rumor, innuendo and gossip,” defense attorney Joel Brodsky said after a recent hearing concerning information contained in the 15 statements. “People had ulterior motives for saying what they said or are out-and-out unreliable people.”

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