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Illinois Hearsay Law and the Drew Peterson Case

Retired Bolingbrook police officer, Drew Peterson, was going through a rough divorce with his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Peterson may have feared that a pending settlement would result in his financial ruin. On March 1, 2004, a neighbor found Savio’s lifeless, bloody body in the bathtub. Initially, police ruled Savio’s death an accident. However, after Peterson’s next wife, Stacy, vanished in 2007, officials exhumed Savio’s body and reclassified her death as a homicide. Authorities charged Peterson with Savio’s murder, but with little physical evidence and no eyewitnesses, the prosecution faced an uphill battle. However, with Illinois’ new hearsay law, the prosecution prevailed. Peterson was found guilty of murder.

The 2010 hearsay law, nicknamed “Drew’s Law,” allows witnesses to speak from beyond the grave. Hearsay is information reported by a witness that is not based on his or her direct knowledge. Generally, such testimony is inadmissible in court, but the new law allows hearsay evidence to be admitted if the defendant engaged in wrongdoing that procured the unavailability of the witness.

The Peterson trial was the first trial in Illinois’ history to use the new hearsay rule. The prosecution argued that Peterson intentionally caused Stacy’s absence to keep her from testifying, and therefore they were able to introduce statements made by Stacy to third parties. This included statements made to her pastor about the night of Savio’s death, letters she wrote to police, and conversations with family members.

While this evidence was the basis for Peterson’s conviction, it may also likely be the basis for his appeal. In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Crawford v. Washington that hearsay evidence violates a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront his or her accuser.

Peterson’s sentencing date is set for mid-February, and he faces up to 60 years in prison. He is also fighting for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

Whether you need help with a criminal law or family matter, hiring an experienced attorney is a crucial step in making sure your rights are protected.

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