Judge Shuts Lawyer's Loose Lips in Drew Peterson Murder Trial
A Wheaton lawyer willing to tell how Drew Peterson's missing wife Stacy made a damning statement about her husband won't get to talk about it at the former Bolingbrook cop's murder trial.
Wheaton attorney Harry Smith testified more than two years ago that just before she vanished, Stacy Peterson paid him a visit about divorcing her husband, Drew Peterson, and asked, ”Could we get more money if we threatened to tell the police how he killed Kathy?”
"Kathy" was Drew Peterson's previous wife, Kathleen Savio, and Drew Peterson has been in jail since May 2009 on charges he killed her.
But Will County Judge Edward Burmila ruled Thursday that Smith cannot tell a jury about his supposed conversation with Stacy Peterson. And lawyers representing Drew Peterson in the murder case have filed a complaint with the state seeking to have Smith punished for relating the conversation at all.
"He should be ashamed of himself," said Peterson attorney Steve Greenberg, who accused Smith of violating attorney-client privilege.
"The most basic of ethical duties — he just drove a truck through it," Greenberg said of Smith. "Damn everything."
Trial date set
Besides barring Smith from testifying about what Stacy Peterson supposedly told him, Judge Burmila set a July 23 date for jury selection in the Drew Peterson murder case and scheduled the trial itself to begin the following week.
Asked by the judge if he was comfortable with that timetable, a shackled, bearded Peterson said, "I've been in solitary confinement for three years ... " before Greenberg grabbed his shoulder, cutting him off and telling him to keep quiet.
Divorce, death and disappearance
Stacy Peterson was not the only Drew Peterson wife to consult Smith about getting a divorce from the 58-year-old disgraced former Bolingbrook cop.
Savio actually hired Smith and he guided her through a divorce that was about to be finalized when she was found drowned in a dry bathtub in March 2004.
Despite the animosity between Savio and Drew Peterson, and the very likely possibility that she was on the verge of claiming the bulk of their marital assets, the state police immediately declared Savio's death an accident and closed the book on her case.
The state police were forced to reopen that book when Stacy Peterson vanished in October 2007. State investigators declared that they had changed their minds and decided Savio was the victim of a homicide, and eventually charged Drew Peterson with murder.
The state police also announced that the missing Stacy Peterson was the victim of a "potential homicide" and named Drew Peterson the sole suspect in their investigation. He has yet to be charged with harming her.
While Smith is forbidden to discuss his visit from Stacy — and may be disciplined for testifying about it during a pretrial hearing in February 2010 — it has yet to be determined if he can share conversations he said he had with Savio.
Smith testified at the pretrial hearing that "throughout the whole (divorce) case she told me that, if I died, you have to go to the authorities and tell them Drew did it."
Smith said he did go to the police after Savio died but they did not bother talking to him.
During the 2010 pretrial hearing, Smith also testified that Savio told him “Drew had broken into her house. That he was all dressed in black, that he had threatened her with a knife, that he threatened to kill her and make it look like an accident unless she got this divorce going.”
Smith also represented Savio when she was charged with battering Drew Peterson while their divorce was pending. Smith won acquittals for Savio and the cases have since been expunged from her record. Drew Peterson accused Smith and Savio of coercing his son Kris, at the time age 8, to lie on the stand.
Smith could not be immediately reached for comment following Thursday's hearing.
Burmila will decide on June 6 whether to allow Smith to testify about the Savio statements.
Burmila also entertained a laundry list of motions from the defense during the Thursday hearing. His decisions are not expected to impact trial strategy or the case, but Peterson attorney Joel Brodsky said the defense team has even more pretrial motions in store.
Even though the Savio statements to Smith remain up in the air, Greenberg argued passionately that they should be kept out, and said prosecutors know it.
"The state should have said, 'We can't use this,'" Greenberg said. "Instead, they embraced it. They went running into the grand jury with it."
"If the judge finds he violated his privilege, he's got big problems," Brodsky said after the hearing. Defense co-counsel Joseph "Shark" Lopez said of Smith, "He wanted his 15 minutes of fame."