Witness: Peterson received evidence training

August 24, 2012

The Associated Press

JOLIET, Ill. — Drew Peterson, the former suburban Chicago police officer accused of killing his third wife, received evidence-technician training as part of his job, a witness testified Friday.

The testimony from Brian Hafner, a record-keeper with Bolingbrook police, was meant to bolster the state's contention Peterson could make a murder look like an accident.

Peterson, 58, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Kathleen Savio. The 40-year-old aspiring nurse was found dead in her bathtub in 2004, her hair soaked in blood. The death was reclassified from an accident to a homicide only after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007.

Though the judge allowed Hafner's testimony, he did block a prosecution bid Friday to introduce testimony that Peterson once received stranglehold training that would have helped him kill his third wife.

Prosecutors made the request as they wound down their four-week presentation of evidence. The state hasn't offered any testimony about how the former Bolingbrook police sergeant might gone about killing Savio, Judge Edward Burmila said, and so he wouldn't allow them to encourage jurors to speculate he used a stranglehold.

"You can't be serious," the judge balked. "You don't even have any evidence linking him to the scene. Now you want to say this is what he did there?"

Prosecutors said they would rest later Friday. They had no other major witnesses scheduled, so it seemed unlikely they would address that potential hole in their case.

Hafner testified that Peterson took a one-day course in 1988 on compiling evidence. Under cross-examination, he said had no idea what was taught, including whether it included fingerprint collection.

"I'm sure they taught something, but I would not know," he said, prompting laughter in court.

"Do you know if they taught how to stage an accident, how to clean it up?" defense attorney Steve Greenberg asked.

"I have no idea," Hafner responded.

Absent any physical evidence and with no direct witnesses putting Peterson in Savio's house the day she died, prosecutors have relied heavily on hearsay, or statements not based on the direct knowledge of a witness. Such evidence is typically barred in American courts, but Illinois adopted a law in the wake of the Peterson case that allows it in certain circumstances.

If convicted, Peterson faces a maximum 60-year prison term. He is also a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife, who authorities presume is dead. However, he has not been charged in that case and Stacy Peterson's body has never been found.