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Coroner at Drew Peterson murder trial testifies he did not follow "suspicious-death protocols"

In this booking photo provided May 7, 2009 by the Will County Sheriff's office in Joliet, Ill., former Bolingbrook, Ill., police sergeant Drew Peterson is shown. AP Photo/Will County Sheriff's Office

Drew Peterson
AP Photo/Will County Sheriff's Office

(CBS/AP) JOLIET, Ill. - Drew Peterson's murder trial focused Tuesday on the botched investigation that followed the discovery of his third wife's body, as prosecutors sought to explain why there is no physical evidence linking the former police officer to her death.

The 58-year-old Peterson was charged in Kathleen Savio's 2004 death only after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, went missing in 2007. Savio's body was then exhumed and her death reclassified from an accident to a homicide.

Among those to take the stand Tuesday was a deputy coroner who described arriving at Savio's home and finding investigators already drawing conclusions even though Savio's corpse was still sprawled in her dry bathtub - her hair soaked with blood.

He told jurors he did not follow what he called "suspicious-death protocols" - which would have required Savio's body to be handled in a way that ensured evidence was preserved - because investigators indicated there was no need.

"I asked ... if they thought there was something wrong here, and they stated, `No,'" Michael VanOver told jurors.

Prosecutors are working to show the investigation was shoddy and lay the groundwork for the admission of circumstantial evidence and normally prohibited hearsay. Peterson's attorneys have defended the investigation as perfectly adequate, suggesting the reason there is no physical evidence is because there was no crime.

VanOver testified that a lack of soap scum along the inside of the bathtub was among the things made him suspicious. He also said the position of the body in the tub didn't suggest Savio had fallen and bottles lined along the tub had not toppled over, which he said he would have expected if someone had taken a fatal fall.

However, he admitted under cross-examination that he didn't express his concerns to investigators or other authorities.

Later Tuesday, a crime-scene investigator, Robert Deel, told jurors he walked around the inside and outside of Savio's house but saw no signs of a forced entry. He also said there was nothing pushed or broken inside that might indicate a struggle.

"I was not thinking it was a homicide at that time," Deel said.

Judge Edward Burmila declined to bar prosecutors from dwelling on the shoddy investigation, but he said he wouldn't let them suggest to jurors that there must have been evidence there that wasn't collected but would have proven Peterson's guilt.

Complete coverage of the Drew Peterson case on Crimesider

  • Crimesider Staff

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