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Drew Peterson: Opening statements in murder trial to begin today

Booking photo of former Illinois police sergeant Drew Peterson AP Photo/Will County Sheriff's Office

(CBS/AP) CHICAGO - The saga of Drew Peterson and his ill-fated wives has drawn widespread attention outside the courtroom, and now the murder case against the ex-police officer finally goes to trial Tuesday with opening statements and testimony from the first witnesses.

The case drew national attention amid speculation that Peterson, now 58 years old, used his law enforcement expertise to get away with the 2004 murder of Kathleen Savio, 40, and to make 23-year-old Stacy Peterson disappear in 2007. The story was even turned into a TV movie starring Rob Lowe that premiered this January, "Drew Peterson: Untouchable."

The former Bolingbrook police sergeant was charged with murder in Savio's death only after the disappearance of Stacy Peterson. He is a suspect in her disappearance but hasn't been charged.

"I'll tell a story from the beginning to the end so they can understand what's going on," said defense lawyer Joel Brodsky about his planned Tuesday opening. "Until now, everything has been told just in slices."

The defense has described Savio's death as a tragic accident, and they said Stacy Peterson, whose body has never been found, may have run off with another man.

Will County's state's attorney James Glasgow declined to discuss his opening, but told reporters last week he was eager to begin presenting the state's case, saying, "We have finally come to the point we've been waiting for."

A botched initial investigation into Savio's death left prosecutors with hardly any physical evidence, forcing them to rely heavily on hearsay evidence - statements not heard directly by witnesses.

Hearsay evidence includes witnesses who can describe how Drew Peterson allegedly told his wives he could murder them and make it look like an accident. Normally such evidence are barred at trials. Judge Edward Burmila said he would decide what hearsay statements to admit only as testimony proceeds.

Burmila also warned prosecutors they can't tell jurors Drew Peterson is responsible for Stacy's disappearance or refer to authorities' belief that she is dead. If allowed, it would improve chances of a guilty verdict.

Brodsky said attorneys on both sides will have to find the right terminology in talking about the fourth wife, adding that the sides might be able to use the phrase "she is no longer available."

Prosecutors said Peterson killed Savio because he feared their pending divorce settlement would wipe him out financially. And they believe he killed Stacy because she knew about Savio's death.

Complete coverage of the Drew Peterson case on Crimesider

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