Drew Peterson was convicted of first degree murder in the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. It was the first case in Illinois to allow the use of hearsay evidence based on a state law passed in 2008 that was specifically tailored to his case. Hearsay is defined as “an out of court statement offered in evidence to prove the truth of the mater asserted.”
The jurors admitted that remarks made by Stacy Peterson, Peterson’s fourth wife, made before her disappearance in 2007 played a key role in his conviction. Prosecutors explained that this hearsay testimony would enable Savio and Stacy Peterson, who is presumed dead, “to speak from their graves” through family members and friends. There was a lack of physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio’s death, which was previously ruled an accident in 2004.
Neighbors found Savio’s body in the bathtub of her home with a gash on the back of her head. Investigators initially thought she drowned after slipping in the tub, but reopened the case after Stacy Peterson disappeared.
Drew Peterson’s criminal defense lawyers have asserted that the hearsay evidence impinged on Peterson’s Constitutional rights because he could not directly confront his accusers, his third and fourth wives.
The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the right, in criminal proceedings, to have a face to face confrontation with a witness who is testifying against an individual in the form of cross examination during a trial.
Peterson’s criminal appellate attorney will focus on this hearsay issue, as it was central to Peterson’s conviction. His appellate lawyer will argue in his initial brief that Peterson was denied the opportunity to cross examine his third and fourth wives, which violated his constitutional rights and denied him his right to a fair trial. The fact that the jurors admitted this evidence was central to his conviction will strengthen this issue as well because the prosecution will not be able to argue that any hearsay error was harmless. This issue involves a question of law, so the standard of review is de novo, meaning the appellate court considers the question for the first time.
If Peterson was convicted in South Carolina, he would hire an appellate lawyer in South Carolina and his case would be heard by the South Carolina Court of Appeals which is located in Columbia, South Carolina. He would also have the opportunity to appeal his case to the Supreme Court of South Carolina if he lost his direct appeal in the Court of Appeals. If he lost his appeal in state court, he would have the opportunity to file a federal appeal in Federal court known as a habeas petition and could also file a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.