By Don Babwin
WILL COUNTY, Ill. — A judge on Thursday ordered Drew Peterson to remain in jail while prosecutors appeal a key decision that ruled out crucial evidence they planned to use at the former police officer's murder trial.
Defense attorneys argued for Peterson's unconditional release pending trial during the hearing in Will County Circuit Court, saying keeping Peterson behind bars during what could be a lengthy appeals process denied him his right to a speedy trial.
"By holding him indefinitely, that is punishment," Peterson's attorney, Joseph Lopez, told Judge Stephen White.
But prosecutor James Glasgow told the judge that the 56-year-old Peterson poses a danger to the community and that his office showed that during a hearing earlier this year about what hearsay - or secondhand - evidence could be presented to the jury.
"We put on evidence that Drew Peterson killed Kathleen Savio in an attempt to silence her and killed Stacy Peterson to silence her," Glasgow said, referring to Peterson's third wife, Savio, who he is charged with murdering and his fourth wife, Stacy, who disappeared in October 2007. "If that isn't a danger ... I don't know what's more compelling."
White said the "court finds compelling reason to keep Mr. Peterson detained," but did not elaborate. He said the reasoning behind his decision would be clear to the state appellate court when it reviews the case.
Peterson, who has been jailed since his May 2009 arrest, tapped his fingers on the table in front of him when the ruling was issued but showed no apparent sign of disappointment. His attorneys said they would appeal the judge's ruling.
The former Bolingbrook police officer has pleaded not guilty to murdering Savio, who was found dead in her empty bathtub in 2004. Her death was initially ruled an accident but was later ruled a homicide after her body was exhumed and examined following Stacy Peterson's disappearance.
Peterson is the only suspect in her disappearance and has denied wrongdoing.
Peterson's trial in Savio's death was scheduled to begin Thursday, but White on Tuesday ruled that the jury wouldn't be allowed to hear some of the hearsay evidence, including statements Savio allegedly made to others, leading prosecutors to appeal. Such evidence is considered crucial to prosecutors' case because they have not produced physical evidence linking Peterson to Savio's death, firsthand witnesses or a confession.
Terry Sullivan, a Chicago attorney and former prosecutor who has followed the case, said the appeal shows how much prosecutors need the hearsay testimony.
"It signals to me that without the hearsay they're in trouble," Sullivan said. "Now it's pretty well an admission that shows they don't want to go to trial without that hearsay testimony. You can read whatever you want into it."
Glasgow declined to outline what evidence was excluded, but he pointed to a June 24 Illinois Supreme Court ruling in another case that he said shows he's entitled to present additional hearsay evidence at Peterson's trial. In the other case, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a Naperville man in the 2005 slayings of four family members and rejected his argument that hearsay statements from his sister shouldn't have been allowed at trial.
"I am obligated as the state's attorney for Will County to make sure that when I come into court, I have all the evidence I can possibly garner," he told reporters in Joliet.
Glasgow acknowledged an appeal could take months.
Peterson's attorneys said the appeal didn't come as a surprise and they believe he eventually will be aquitted.
"They're telling the appellate court, we don't have a case without this hearsay," Lopez said.
Glasgow said that wasn't true.
"We're ready for trial," he said. "I filed this appeal because there is evidence I believe should be available to us."
Hearsay evidence _ statements not based on a witness' direct knowledge _ are allowed in trials under a new state law if prosecutors can prove a defendant may have killed a witness to prevent him or her from testifying. The law was so closely linked to the Peterson case that some have dubbed it "Drew's law."
A person familiar with the case told The Associated Press that among the statements White excluded was one from Stacy Peterson's pastor, who said she told him she'd given Peterson a false alibi the weekend of Savio's death. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the judge's orders have been sealed.
That person said the pastor, Neil Schori, will still be allowed to testify about other conversations with Stacy Peterson.
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For example, Schori can testify Stacy Peterson told him of seeing her husband, dressed all in black, dumping his clothes and women's clothing that did not belong to Stacy into their washing machine the night before Savio's body was found in her bathtub, the source said.