The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

February 19, 2013

Peterson murder case returns with motion for new trial

(Continued)

But one of hearing's focuses is expected to be a decision that backfired during trial — calling divorce lawyer Harry Smith to be a witness for the defense. Greenberg says that was Brodsky's decision; Brodsky says all the defense lawyers agreed on it.

Under questioning by Brodsky, Smith told jurors that Stacy Peterson had asked him a question before she vanished: Could she squeeze more money out of her husband in divorce proceedings if she threatened to tell police that he murdered Savio three years earlier?

Brodsky hoped Smith's testimony that Stacy Peterson allegedly sought to extort her husband would dent the credibility of statements she made to others that Drew Peterson threatened to kill her.

Savio's death was initially deemed an accident, a freak slip in the tub. But after Stacy Peterson vanished, Savio's body was re-examined and her death was reclassified as a homicide.

During Smith's testimony, Brodsky repeatedly stressed how Stacy Peterson seemed to sincerely believe her husband had killed Savio. Chief state's prosecutor James Glasgow called it "a gift from God," and some jurors said later Smith's testimony persuaded them to convict Drew Peterson.

Judges rarely grant retrials. When they do, it is usually because an attorney didn't make a certain argument or call a witness who might have exonerated a defendant, explained Kathleen Zellner, another Chicago-area defense attorney.

"It's usually not for something an attorney did but for what they did not do," she said.

But this case has been full of oddities since first making headlines in 2007. Peterson's trial was the first in Illinois history where prosecutors built their case on hearsay, thanks to a new law tailored specifically for the case, dubbed "Drew's Law."

Still, most legal observers agreed that the motion for a new trial is a longshot, at best.

"Nothing in this case has been usual," Pissetzky said. "But the chances for this motion to succeed are slim to none — and slim just left the building."

___

Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm

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