Questions from jurors about testimony and photos started coming out less than two hours after deliberations began. Kim Vatis reports.
Jurors mulling over the evidence in the trial of Drew Peterson asked a series of questions on their first day of deliberations but ultimately went home without a verdict.
The questions started coming less than two hours after deliberations started Wednesday morning, with jurors asking for photos, transcripts, phone records and a letter written by Kathleen Savio, the ex-wife Peterson is charged with killing.
Judge Edward Burmila allowed jurors access to phone records of the weekend Savio died, as well as her autopsy photos and photos of tub in which she was found, but decided against giving them the transcripts of two state witnesses.
Instead, jurors were brought back into the courtroom and listened to a court reporter read the written records of Rev. Neil Schori and attorney Harry Smith's testimony. Additionally, a letter Savio wrote to a state investigator, in which she expressed fear that Peterson would kill her, was provided to jurors in a heavily-redacted state.
"That evidence is really powerful," said jury consultant Bill Healy. "If you're going to send somebody to jail, you want to be able to say, 'We went through, piece by piece. This is how we tied it all up.'"
Peterson, 58, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. To sustain the charges, prosecutors must have proven that Peterson either "performed the acts which caused the death of Kathleen Savio" and "intended to kill or do great bodily harm" or "he knew that his acts created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm."
If convicted, Peterson faces a maximum 60-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors have no physical evidence tying Peterson to the death and waged a case based on hearsay testimony and circumstantial evidence. Hearsay, or statements not based on the direct knowledge of a witness, isn't usually admissible in court, but Illinois passed a law in 2008, dubbed "Drew's Law," that allows it in rare circumstances.
Prior to deliberations, Burmila spent about 15 minutes giving instructions to the panelists before they filed out to elect a foreman and began wading through five weeks of circumstantial and hearsay evidence. He told them they should go in with the presumption that Peterson is innocent and convict him only if they find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
"The defendant is not required to prove his innocence," he told them.
Defense attorneys viewed the jury's actions as a good sign.
"It seems that they've got maybe two committees or two halves," said Peterson attorney Joel Brodsky. "One are looking at ... the credibility issue and the hearsay issue. And the other ones are looking at the forensic issue."
Earlier in the day, Brodsky said his client was in good spirits and was eagerly awaiting a verdict. Peterson is fighting hard for his freedom, Brodsky said, because he wants to see his kids.
"There is no higher thing on his mind right now," Brodsky said, noting a quick verdict would be good news for his client.
After more than eight hours of deliberations, Burmila gave the jurors the option of a state-sponsored meal or to go home to their families. The seven men and five women opted to go home but were advised to immediately call authorities if anyone approached them about the case or tried to discuss it.
Deliberations continue Thursday.