JOLIET – Drew Peterson formally introduced himself to would-be jurors Monday in his long-delayed murder trial, but it was clear many of them already were familiar with the former suburban Chicago police officer known to make crass jokes in the news media.
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, but her death was ruled accidental until police began investigating the 2007 disappearance of the ex-police sergeant’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. He is a suspect in that case as well, although he has not been charged.
Peterson, his trademark mustache shaved off, stood and spoke to about 40 potential jurors as jury selection began Monday.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I’m Mr. Peterson,” he said in a steady voice.
Finding an impartial jury was the first immediate challenge for attorneys in the trial, in which jurors are likely to hear statements Savio and Stacy Peterson 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.
One question looming over the trial is how much Peterson’s personality will influence the jury. Before his arrest, Peterson often was seen joking about a “Win A Date With Drew” contest, his missing wife’s menstrual cycle, and other topics that were widely seen as inappropriate. Even after his arrest in 2009, Peterson called a Chicago radio show to make jokes about life behind bars.
Despite a judge’s order to avoid all news about Peterson, several of the prospective jurors said they found it hard to avoid media reports about him. The 200-person jury pool has been waiting three years for the trial, which was put off because of appellate court battles over the hearsay statements.
Several potential jurors said they had watched a 2011 cable TV movie about the Savio case titled, “Drew Peterson: Untouchable,” in which actor Rob Lowe portrays the former Bolingbrook police officer.
Many insisted they understood the movie was Hollywood fiction. One potential juror who works as a plumber watched the movie and said it made Peterson look guilty of murder, but he said he could separate the movie from evidence presented during trial.
One man said that when he hears Peterson’s name on the radio he switches it off or leaves the room. But the man said that just last week he saw Peterson’s photograph splashed across the front page of a suburban Chicago newspaper.
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 July 31.