- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 15, 2012

JOLIET, Ill. — A judge is poised Wednesday to again decide whether to cut short former police officer Drew Peterson’s murder trial — the third time in as many weeks he is giving serious consideration to declaring a mistrial after a blunder by prosecutors.

Their latest misstep came as proceedings seemed to be going the prosecution’s way as they sought to prove Peterson, 58, killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. He was charged after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007.

Judge Edward Burmila seemed unmoved Tuesday by apologies from an attorney for the state after she broached a subject she was told not to mention to jurors — raising the possibility that the trial could end with the judge letting Peterson go free.

Declaring a mistrial and concluding prosecutors intentionally violated his orders could lead to his release — though that would be the most extreme measure Burmila could take.

Burmila also could declare a more standard mistrial, meaning Peterson would be retried later. The judge also could instruct the jury to disregard what the prosecutor said. If he takes that route, it could still signal to jurors that prosecutors have — again — messed up, potentially influencing their deliberations.

Earlier Tuesday, Burmila told prosecutor Kathleen Patton not to ask a witness in front of jurors about whether Savio had sought an order of protection against Peterson. When she did, the judge told jurors to leave the room and berated the prosecutor.

“There was one thing I told you not to go into and that’s exactly what you did,” Burmila told her.

The case has been beset by problems since Savio was found dead in her bathroom at her suburban home. Investigators collected no physical evidence, and authorities initially ruled Savio accidentally drowned. After Stacy Peterson vanished three years later, Savio’s body was re-examined and her death was reclassified as a homicide.

Explaining her mistake Tuesday, Patton told Burmila that the question about the protection order was on a prepared list of questions and that she read it inadvertently.

“I’m sorry,” Patton said. “It’s my fault. I can’t believe I did it.”

During a break, Patton sat in an adjoining courtroom, her shoulders slumped forward, her face buried in her hands, shaking her head. Her boss, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, stood a few feet away, his head down.

The judge had in recent days made several rulings in prosecutors’ favor, granting them permission to present hearsay evidence central to their case.

Hearsay, or statements not based on the direct knowledge of a witness, is usually not admissible in court, but Illinois passed a law in the wake of the Peterson case that allows it in certain circumstances.

The mistake also came as Patton was questioning one of the state’s most compelling witnesses.

Former police officer Teresa Kernc had just told jurors about interviewing Savio in 2002 after Peterson allegedly broke into Savio’s home in a SWAT uniform and repeatedly pushed her to the ground.

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