Drew Peterson's Words Could Spark Trouble

Drew Peterson walks into a courthouse in Joliet Ill., May 8, 2009 for his arraignment on charges of first-degree murder of his former wife Kathleen Savio, who was found in an empty bathtub at home. AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Drew Peterson may not take the stand if he goes to trial for killing his third wife, but his words could still play a big role as prosecutors try to put him away.

Peterson will remain jailed on $20 million bond until at least Thursday after a prosecution request to remove the judge handling his case derailed plans for defense attorneys to ask for a bail reduction. Defense attorney Joel Brodsky entered a not guilty plea on Peterson's behalf as his client stood silently in court Monday, wearing a blue jail jumpsuit and shackles.

"What this trial is going to show - if we even get to trial - will be that there is absolutely no evidence that Drew did anything wrong, anything at all regarding Kathleen Savio's death," Brodsky told CBS' The Early Show.

The former police officer, facing first-degree murder charges in the 2004 drowning death of ex-wife Kathleen Savio, has never shied from the media that has followed his every move since his fourth wife Stacy vanished in 2007 and he became a suspect in Savio's killing.

In fact, he's seemed to relish the spotlight, often offering reporters a joke or smart-aleck remark - like smiling and calling his handcuffs "bling" as he was led to his first court appearance earlier this month.

And that, attorneys say, could be one of Peterson's biggest problems.

"If one wife goes missing and (another) wife is dead, those aren't usually the subject of jokes," said Roy Black, a defense attorney whose clients have included Rush Limbaugh and William Kennedy Smith. "People are going to think this is a very bizarre person, who's more likely to have committed murder than someone who is in mourning."

Peterson is accused of drowning Savio, who was found dead in a dry bathtub in 2004 with a gash on the back of her head. Her death originally was ruled an accident, but after Stacy Peterson went missing, Savio's body was exhumed and authorities ruled it a homicide staged to look like an accident.

Marilyn Brenneman, a senior deputy prosecutor in Seattle's King County, once won a murder conviction after she showed a jury a video of a news conference given by the man she was prosecuting in a drowning death.

"We used it to show his attitude was blase," she said. "He was kind of wooden and didn't show any emotion. ... That is not really an appropriate response."

Defense attorney Mark Geragos has seen what a defendant's own words can do to a case - starting with one of his most famous clients, Scott Peterson, who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, after a trial in which jurors watched three television interviews given by Peterson before he retained Geragos.

The interviews included Scott Peterson saying he told police about his affair with another woman the first night his wife was reported missing and saying he told his mistress the truth about being married within several days of the disappearance. Neither was true. And by the time those clips played at trial, jurors knew from other testimony they were watching Scott Peterson lie.

"Some of the most compelling evidence the jury can see is prejudicial but unfortunately it's compelling," Geragos said.

If the Scott Peterson case is exhibit A in how their own words can hurt defendants, then the case of Cynthia Sommer is exhibit B.

Sommer was convicted in San Diego in 2007 of first-degree murder in the slaying of her husband after prosecutors based much of their case on the idea that Sommer did not behave like a grieving widow after her husband's death.

The jury heard about how Sommer used insurance money to pay for breast implants, took part in wet T-shirt contests and had casual sex with other men.

Then a year later, a judge dismissed the charges that Sommer poisoned her husband with arsenic after new tests revealed there were no arsenic in his system.

"This case was all about a grieving unbecoming of a widow," said Sommer's attorney, Allen Bloom. "That's all it was, it was a lifestyle, it was painting her with a scarlet letter."

Even if the videos of Drew Peterson's arrival in court or of his interviews don't make it into trial, they can still have an effect.

"Whether it's admissible or not is one thing ..." said Joe Tacopina, a prominent defense attorney in New York. "But it's certainly admissible in the court of public opinion, which is your jury pool."

Peterson's attorney said joking around is how Peterson deals with stress.

"In a tight, uncomfortable situation, you're gonna get humor and wisecracks," said attorney Joel Brodsky, who is expected to ask a judge Monday to reduce Peterson's bond, which is now $20 million.

Peterson said he wouldn't behave any other way.

"Would it be better if I hid my head down and tried to hide my face and hunched and had tears in my eyes?" he asked NBC's Matt Lauer during a telephone interview aired on the "Today" show Friday. "I mean, no, that's just not me."

Instead, from almost the day Stacy Peterson vanished in October 2007, Peterson has done things like joke about his fourth wife's menstrual cycles and agree to take part in a radio show's suggested "Win a Date With Drew" contest.

Brodsky said he is confident that if Peterson stands trial the jury will do the right thing.

"My experience is that juries usually work very hard to put away biases and look at the facts," he said.

Others, though, aren't so sure.

Bloom said even though most people who sit on juries want to be fair, they can still end up being swayed by things that have nothing to do with evidence.

"They say they won't, but they can be impacted by innuendo, suspicion, speculation and moral judgment," he said.

That explains why Peterson reminds Black of a lawyer who displayed a mounted fish on his wall.

"It had a sign that said, 'I wouldn't be here either if I kept my mouth shut,"' said Black, chuckling.
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