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Drew Peterson Murder Trial Hinges on Words of Two Absent Women

Giovanni Rufino/NBC NewsWire(JOLIET, Ill.) -- The murder trial of former Illinois cop Drew Peterson could hinge on the statements of two women who won't be at that trial: his third wife he is accused of murdering and his fourth wife who has disappeared.

A jury of seven men and five women will hear opening arguments Tuesday on whether Peterson, 58, killed his then-wife Kathleen Savio in 2004 and made it look like an accident.

Peterson skyrocketed to notoriety in 2007 when his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared.  Cops exhumed Savio's body as part of their investigation into Stacy's disappearance, eventually changing the cause of Savio's death from an accident to homicide and charging Peterson with murder.

Stacy has never been found, and the case has garnered widespread media attention focused on Peterson, whose story was made into a Lifetime movie, with Rob Lowe playing Peterson, earlier this year.

In the trial, prosecutors will argue that bruises on Savio's neck, together with Peterson's history of domestic violence and his statements about Savio's death to his fourth wife prove that he murdered Savio.

Peterson, who was a sergeant in the Bolingbrook, Ill., police department, was in the middle of a bitter divorce from Savio and had already begun seeing Stacy Peterson at the time of Savio's death.

Kathleen Zellner, a Chicago attorney who has been following the case, noted that the prosecution is expected to try and use statements that Stacy Peterson made to her minister before her disappearance, in which she said that Peterson had admitted to killing Savio.  If the judge admits the hearsay statements of Stacy Peterson, the testimony could be damaging to Peterson, she said.

"What the judge is going to do is he's going to wait and make individual rulings each time the prosecution tries to introduce hearsay, not give a blanket ruling, but listen to see if they open the door in some way that makes the hearsay admissible.  He'll make this a day by day ruling on these different pieces," Zellner said.

"Essentially we've got Peterson confessing the murder of Savio to his fourth wife, but we still have the question of whether that will come in," Zellner added.

Prosecutors will also try to admit Stacy Peterson's statements to her minister that she saw Drew Peterson arrive home with women's clothing around the time of Savio's death.

Savio's sister may take the stand to describe Savio's statements that Peterson threatened her with a knife and said he could make her death look like an accident.

"That doesn't concern us," Peterson's attorney, Joel Brodsky told ABC News earlier this week.  "Anybody that knows anybody that has been through a divorce knows that people say things and do things that is totally out of character, and clearly Kathy was trying to build a case to try and get as much money as she could."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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