(JOLIET, Ill.) — The murder trial of Drew Peterson was only minutes old today when his lawyers stood and called for a mistrial.
That request was the first of what are expected to be many legal arguments over what evidence will be allowed into the trial since much of the most crucial testimony will be hearsay evidence, the words of Peterson’s third wife who he is accused of murdering as well as comments by his fourth wife who has disappeared.
Peterson, 58, gained notoriety in 2007 when his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished from their Illinois home. During the investigation into her disappearance, authorities exhumed the body of Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, who died in 2004 from what was initially ruled to be an accidental fall in a bathtub.
A new report from a forensic pathologist, however, concluded that showed Savio likely drowned as the result of homicide and police charged Peterson with murder.
The trial began this morning with legal wrangling over whether the prosecution’s opening statement would be limited by Judge Edward Burmilia. Defense attorneys pleaded with the judge to ban the introduction of hearsay statements and the idea that Peterson could have benefited financially from the death of Savio.
The judge denied the request, allowing the prosecution to open the trial with the idea of murder-for-gain just minutes into their statement.
“The evidence shows this wasn’t an accident,” prosecutor James Glasgow told the jury of seven women and five men. He noted that at the time of Savio’s death, Peterson was financially supporting her, his girlfriend Stacy Peterson, two homes, and his children.
Peterson was already seeing Stacy while he was in the midst of divorcing Savio.
With that, the defense objected and the jury was quickly removed from the courtroom as Burmilia sustained the defense’s request. Defense attorney Joel Brodsky then called for a mistrial.
“It’s so prejudicial, even if you sustain in front of the jury, the damage is done. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” Brodsky said.
The judge denied Brodsky’s request.
The arguments over what the jury will be allowed to hear are expected to play a pivotal role in the case, as the prosecution tries to prove their murder charge by admitting statements Savio and Stacy Peterson made to acquaintances. Savio is dead and Stacy Peterson has disappeared.
Burmilia has said he will rule on each issue as it comes up during trial.
The prosecution is expected to brief the jury on their theory that Peterson was a habitual domestic abuser who killed Savio and, with his policing expertise, made it look like an accident. The statements they hope to build their case on include Stacy Peterson’s statements to her minister that at the time of Savio’s death, she saw Drew Peterson come home with women’s clothing that was not hers.
Following the prosecution’s opening statement, the defense is expected to state their belief that the state has no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio’s death.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ralph Ellis, Ben Wedeman and Michael Pearson, CNN
Euan McKirdy and Natalie L. Gallón, CNN