(CBS/AP) CHICAGO - Two of Drew Peterson's ex-wives can effectively testify from the grave during the trial of the suburban Chicago police officer who is charged with murder in one of their deaths and suspected of killing the other, an appellate court ruled Thursday.
The ruling, which gives the go-ahead to present additional hearsay evidence to jurors, is a victory for prosecutors. Earlier rulings to exclude many of the secondhand statements had raised questions about the viability of trying Peterson on charges he killed Kathleen Savio in 2004.
The 57-year-old former Bolingbrook police sergeant is charged with first-degree murder in the 2004 drowning death of Savio, his third wife, and is a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. Drew Peterson has denied involvement in either death.
While neither side has talked much about the evidence in the case, from the day Peterson was arrested, Glasgow, the state's attorney, has made it clear the women's statements about their fears of Peterson and the threats he made against them is crucial.
"It's very good news," said Charles Pelkie, a spokesman for Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow, after the court released its opinion. "We anticipate a trial later this spring or early in the summer."
One of Peterson's lawyers said he wished the court would have sided with the defense, but he stopped short of characterizing Thursday's ruling as a defeat.
"We're obviously disappointed that they will be able to present unreliable evidence to try and convict somebody, but we are not afraid of (prosecutors') case," Steven A. Greenberg said. "We will be ready for trial."
Greenberg said defense attorneys could appeal the decision to Illinois Supreme Court and then, if need be, to the U.S. Supreme Court. But he said they are leaning against doing so before trial.
The decision not to appeal could also mean the trial, repeatedly delayed as the hearsay issue played out in the courts, could finally get a fixed starting date.
Peterson has been jailed since his May 2009 arrest on charges of killing Savio. He was charged only after Stacy Peterson disappeared and Savio's body was exhumed.
Savio's body was found in a dry bathtub, her hair soaked in blood from a head wound, just before the couple's divorce settlement was finalized. Her death originally was ruled an accidental drowning but authorities later said it was a homicide staged to look like an accident.
Authorities have said they believe Stacy Peterson is dead, but Drew Peterson has never been charged in that case.