Over the past three and a half weeks, prosecutors have laid out their case against Drew Peterson, in an extraordinary pre-trial hearing that's raised serious debate about the state's new hearsay law.
Testimony from more than five dozen witnesses during the hearing has painted Drew Peterson as a husband bent on control and willing to use violence or threats of violence to get his way. But much of the statements are hearsay, or second hand. The are only being presented because the state passed a new law, dubbed "Drew's Law," to let hearsay evidence in. Legal experts, not connected to the case, say the problem with hearsay evidence is it does not allow the defendant to confront and challenge his accuser.
"It's a dangerous law, it's one that I think the intent is to hold people responsible for their bad acts, but on the other hand, I think, if abused, can result in failures of the system," said Attorney Terry Ekl.
Peterson is is charged with killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio in 2004. He's suspected, but not charged, with killing his fourth-- and still missing wife-- Stacy Peterson, in 2007. The prosecution's case is based largely circumstantial and hearsay evidence. It comes from relatives, friends and clergy. They testified that the two women told them about Peterson's threats, or actions, that prosecutions contend show Peterson was responsible for their death or disappearance.
"At least some of these statements are made by party to a divorce and frequently parties to divorce go around and say awful things about the other side that are not true," Ekl says.
But Attorney Dean Polales says "Drew's Law" is based on a United States Supreme Court ruling.
"That decision, which came down in 2008, said if a defendant procures the absence or unavailability of a witness for the purpose of preventing their testimony, then the defendant forfeits his right to confront the witness and therefore the protection of the hearsay rule," Polales said.
Judge Stephen White, who is presiding over the case, has to evaluate the reliability of 15 hearsay statements and then decide which of them will be allowed in at trial.
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