September 6, 2012

Peterson jury asks for definition of ‘unanimous’

Michael Tarm Associated Press
 

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Jurors deliberating the murder case against Drew Peterson sent a note to the judge Thursday asking for the definition of the word ‘unanimous’ — a request that would seem to indicate a lack of consensus among them after more than a day and a half of discussion.

After the former Illinois police officer and his attorneys gathered in the Joliet courtroom, Judge Edward Burmila read out the one-sentence note from the 12 panelists, who include a research technician, a part-time poet and mail carrier. It read: “Just to be clear, judge — what does ‘unanimous’ mean?”

After discussing a response for several minutes with attorneys, Burmila said he would respond with a note saying the word “indicates the agreement of all on the matter at hand” and that, if they reach a decision, they would all have to sign the verdict form to show they are all in agreement.

Peterson, 58, has pleaded not guilty to murdering his third wife, Kathleen Savio, whose body was found in her dry bathtub in 2004. He was charged only after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007, and Savio’s remains were exhumed and her death was reclassified as homicide.

The jury sent four notes to the judge Wednesday, when they began deliberations, including one requesting transcripts of so-called hearsay testimony from witnesses who talked about incriminatory statements about Drew Peterson that Savio and Stacy Peterson allegedly made to them.

Hearsay is normally barred from being introduced as evidence in American trials, but Illinois adopted legislation tailored to Peterson’s case allowing it in these circumstances. The statements implicating the defendant that Savio allegedly made to others before she died and that Stacy Peterson allegedly made before she disappeared are at the core of the state’s case.

Because of a botched initial investigation into Savio’s death, detectives collected no fingerprints, strands of hair or any other physical evidence. That means the case largely hinges on the hearsay and other circumstantial evidence.

Another of the Wednesday notes asks for photographs of Savio’s body as it was found jammed into her bathtub. They also wanted autopsy photos, including one of Savio’s skull cut away to reveal her brain.

Prosecutor Chris Koch told jurors during his closing earlier in the week that it would have been impossible for Savio to suffer the wound on the back of her head and 14 bruises on the front of her body unless someone had attacked her. The defends say Savio died in an accidental slip in the tub.

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Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm

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