(JOLIET, Ill.) — Drew Peterson’s murder trial resumed today after the judge considered and then denied a defense request to declare a mistrial.
Judge Edward Burmilia called a recess this morning after the prosecution, in questioning Peterson’s former neighbor, introduced controversial evidence. Peterson, 58, is accused of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004.
Thomas Pontarelli, who lived down the street from the home Peterson and Savio once shared, said during questioning that Peterson had intimidated Savio in the months before her death while the couple was going through a bitter divorce. He then said that Savio once found a bullet in her driveway, a statement that drew loud objections by the defense and a scolding by Burmilia.
“Are you going to be able to demonstrate the defendant put the bullet on the driveway as a means of intimidation?” Burmilia said immediately after the prosecution’s witness mentioned the bullet.
Burmilia and defense attorneys agreed that the mention of the bullet had not been discussed in pre-trial hearings and would taint the jury’s perception of Peterson. Burmilia then called for a recess to decide whether the prosecution had warranted a mistrial, but ruled instead this afternoon that the “low-blow” by the prosecution would result in Pontarelli’s entire testimony being stricken from the court record.
The defense could keep the cross-examination with Pontarelli on the record if they wanted to, he said.
Prosecutors said they had no intention of misleading the jury and that they were just trying to show that Peterson’s wife as well as neighbors may have been intimidated by Peterson.
It was the second time in the two day old trial that defense lawyers have asked for a mistrial.
Pontarelli, who lived down the street from where Savio and Peterson once shared a home, described the night in 2004 when he and his wife entered Savio’s home to check on her with Drew Peterson lagging behind them. Pontarelli said he heard his wife, Mary Pontarelli, scream from the upstairs bathroom and ran up to find Savio in a “clean, pristine,” tub, noting that there was “no soap scum on the tub” and there were no towels in the bathroom.
Peterson had asked Pontarelli’s wife, Mary, for help getting into Savio’s home one Monday night in February when he was trying to drop their children off after they spent a weekend in his custody. Mary Pontarelli and Drew Peterson had a locksmith open the front door, and were joined by Thomas Pontarelli when they entered the home to look for Savio.
Pontarelli said that on the night they found Savio, Peterson stepped out into the hall and made a call on his cell phone.
“He said he just found his wife dead in the bath tub and people will think he did it,” Pontarelli said in court today.
Savio’s 2004 death was initially declared an accident, but when Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished without explanation in 2007, Savio’s body was exhumed and reexamined. A new report ruled that Savio had been murdered, and Peterson was charged with homicide.
The two were in the middle of a bitter divorce and Drew had already begun seeing Stacy at the time of Savio’s death.
Pontarelli was the second witness called in the trial, following his wife’s testimony on Monday in which she described the same night’s events.
The testimony was stopped multiple times throughout each witness’s time on the stand, as well as throughout opening statements as attorneys from both sides objected, argued, and even called for a mistrial based on the evidence the state was trying to introduce into the case.
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 the murder charge by allowing statements Savio and Stacy Peterson made to acquaintances.
Judge Edward Burmilia has said he will rule on each issue as it comes up during trial.
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