CHICAGO - Jury selection is to begin Monday in Drew Peterson's long-delayed murder trial, in which prosecutors want the former suburban Chicago police officer's wives to effectively testify from their graves about his threats to kill them.
Peterson, 58, is charged with killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. Her body was found in a dry bathtub in her home, her hair soaked with blood. The ex-Bolingbrook police sergeant is also a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson.
Those picked for the jury are likely to hear statements that the wives allegedly made to friends and relatives about threats Peterson made. Such hearsay is usually barred, but an appellate court ruled jurors can hear the statements.
A judge will vet would-be jurors starting Monday. A 200-person jury has been waiting three years for a trial to get under way. It was put off because of appellate court battles over the hearsay statements.
"I've never heard of anything comparable to this — a jury pool waiting around for so long knowing what case they're going to be in and the reliance on hearsay," said Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago defense lawyer with no link to the case. "It's all very unusual."
The legal saga surrounding Peterson and whether he used his status as a police officer to try to get away with murder has attracted national attention. Rob Lowe portrayed Peterson in a 2011 TV movie, "Drew Peterson: Untouchable."
Vetting would-be jurors typically takes a few days, but extra time is sometimes required in high-profile cases to weed out those who come in with well-formed opinions. Opening statements at Peterson's trial in Joliet are slated for next Tuesday.
The defense raised concerns that some prospective jurors may have violated orders to avoid all news about Peterson. One question Will County Judge Edward Burmila is likely to ask is whether they saw the movie.
Pissetzky wonders if those in the jury pool succumbed to temptations to peek at the news or search online about the case.
"It's like you tell a kid, `Now, don't you eat that pie over there,'" he said. "What are they going to do? Eat the pie!"
An appellate court ruled this year that jurors can hear witnesses say Savio and Stacy Peterson told them Peterson threatened them. There's apparently no physical evidence, so the hearsay is the heart of prosecutors' case.
At a hearing in 2010 to determine what hearsay a jury could hear, dozens of witnesses testified that Savio told them she feared Drew Peterson would kill her and make it look like an accident.
The 40-year-old Savio's death was initially declared an accident, but Peterson was charged after fourth wife Stacy Peterson disappeared. The 23-year-old Stacy Peterson's body has never been found, but authorities say they believe she's dead.
Peterson, jailed since his 2009 arrest, pleaded not guilty. His attorneys say Savio's death was an accident and that Stacy Peterson — 30 years younger than Drew Peterson — ran off with another man and is alive.