CHICAGO
06/25/2010 02:07 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Drew Peterson Trial: Jury To Hear Some Hearsay Evidence Under New Law

Under a new law passed specifically for this case, jurors in the Drew Peterson murder trial will hear certain portions of the so-called "hearsay" testimony that is usually inadmissible in court cases.

According to the Chicago Tribune, a suburban pastor will be able to testify about his discussion with Stacy Peterson, Drew's fourth wife, in which she said she gave police a false alibi for her husband the night his previous wife was killed.

Peterson is charged with the murder of Kathleen Savio, his third spouse. Stacy reportedly told her pastor, Neil Schori, that Peterson was missing for hours on the night of Savio's death. He came home dressed in all black and carrying another woman's clothes, she told Schori, and coached her for hours on what to say to investigators about where he had been.

This type of evidence, in which a witness like Schori testifies about what another has said, is ordinarily not allowed at trial. But under an Illinois law passed in 2008, commonly known as "Drew's Law," some forms of hearsay are admissible if the prosecution argues that the witness was killed to keep from testifying.

Stacy Peterson disappeared in October 2007; Drew Peterson is a suspect in her disappearance, though no charges have been brought as her remains have not yet been found.

Meanwhile, the Tribune reports that the prosecution also suffered a setback in the hearsay rulings:

However, the jury will not hear some details of an alleged 2002 incident in which Peterson allegedly broke into the home of his third wife, Kathleen Savio; held a knife to her throat; and threatened to kill her, according to sources and comments made by defense attorney Joel Brodsky in court Thursday.

...

Sources told the Tribune that statements from several of the women's [Savio's and Stacy Peterson's] friends have been barred, including some testimony about the July 2002 incident in which Peterson is accused of breaking into Savio's house and holding a knife to her throat.

The alleged home invasion was a major focus of the hearsay hearing held earlier this year, with at least seven witnesses testifying about it. One of Savio's former co-workers told the judge that Savio said Peterson, clad in all black and carrying a knife, snuck into her home, pinned her on the stairs and then balked at killing her because it would be "too bloody."

It's unclear why the judge allowed Schori's testimony and not those of the women's friends, but the Tribune reports that Judge Stephen White has to "weigh the witness's reliability" before allowing them to testify hearsay.

Hearsay testimony is risky, and especially damaging to the defense, said University of Illinois law professor Stephen Beckett, because they have no opportunity to cross-examine the person whose words are being spoken.

"This other witness may truthfully be saying what the person said, but how do we know what the person said is true?" Beckett said, in a 2009 article on the subject.

Still, enough evidence was apparently excluded by Judge White to appease Peterson's attorneys.

Joseph Lopez, one lawyer on the defense team, again from the Tribune: "I'm extremely content. As content as a puppy with a new bone."