Drew Peterson an active participant on first day of jury selection
Joel Brodsky and Steve Greenberg, attorneys for Drew Peterson, talk to the media outside the Will County Courthouse in Joliet on the first day of Peterson's trial. (Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune / July 23, 2012)
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I'm Mr. Peterson," he said cordially, standing with his hands clasped in front. "Have a good day."
Peterson's hair was closely cropped, his face clean-shaven and pink with razor burn after months of sporting an unruly beard as he awaited trial in the Will County Jail.
On this first day of jury selection, Peterson wore a gray suit and took an active interest in the proceedings, scribbling notes, watching each potential juror closely, suggesting questions to his lawyers and at one break asking a member of his legal team, "What do you think so far?"
The potential jury pool has waited three years to be summoned to the Will County Courthouse, where Peterson is on trial on allegations he drowned his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. Prosecutors say they also believe he murdered his fourth wife, Stacy, who disappeared in 2007, but he has not been charged.
Late Monday night, eight jurors were seated. Sixteen jurors, including four alternates, are expected to be chosen. Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow said he expects the remaining jurors to be seated Tuesday.
The trial was delayed until this week by a string of appeals tied to prosecutors' intent to use hearsay statements, with jurors told by the original judge in the case not to follow media accounts — presumably including a made-for-TV drama that aired in April.
Potential jurors were identified and addressed in court only by their assigned number. One acknowledged going to extremes to follow the judge's order, telling attorneys she read the newspaper, but only after it had been screened by her husband.
Another woman said she has scrupulously avoided news accounts but watched the TV movie when it aired.
"I didn't think it was a news thing. I thought it was a TV show," she said, adding that she thought she would be able to weigh the evidence without being biased by the film, which starred Rob Lowe as Peterson.
Peterson's attorneys have said they are searching for jurors willing to overlook his loutish behavior — including alleged affairs — and apply the law to the facts of the case.
A crowd of reporters and lawyers packed the 50-seat courtroom. Despite the hoopla, few members of the public were there. One them was Stacy's sister, Cassandra Cales, who left shortly after the first group of prospective jurors was sworn in and said she was relieved that the trial appeared to be on schedule.
"It feels good to actually see something being done," Cales said. "The past few years have been an emotional roller coaster. I just want it to move on so he can be convicted."
Despite the small public turnout for the first day, the courthouse has been media-primed. A bank of cameras was set up outside the courtroom, and officials cordoned off part of the courthouse's fourth floor and put up screens on a bank of windows facing the street after a Tribune photographer took a picture of Peterson walking past last week.
Judge Edward Burmila seemed to acknowledge the attention the case has gotten as he addressed potential jurors.
"This is not 'CSI.'This is not a John Grisham novel. It's not a movie you've seen in a theater or a show you've seen on TV," he told the first group of would-be jurors, cautioning them that they were about to witness a "real" criminal trial and must base their verdict on the law.
About 240 prospective jurors were summoned three years ago, a hedge against potential bias caused by the enormous publicity that has surrounded the case since Stacy Peterson's disappearance.
Drew Peterson appeared to have some involvement in jury selection, standing to speak with defense attorney Lisa Lopez during a break in her questioning of a potential juror from Bolingbrook. After the break, Lopez asked the would-be juror if she knew Drew's son Tom Peterson, valedictorian of his Bolingbrook High School class in 2011. The woman said her children did and she knew Tom was Drew's son.
The woman, who is studying nursing, also said she had seen part of the Lifetime TV movie about the case. The potential juror said her family was watching a movie and she came in and watched a few minutes.