Illinois felony charge: Drew Peterson murder trial gets underway

Many Illinois residents are familiar with the case of Drew Peterson, the man accused of murdering his third wife. He is facing a felony charge concerning the recent accusations against him and remains a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife. Although the man is facing an arduous legal battle, he remains entitled to the same presumption of innocence that protects all individuals charged with a crime in our state.

Peterson is facing a felony charge of murder related to his third wife's death. She was found dead in 2004, inside of a bathtub. She was divorced from Peterson at the time, though the division of their marital assets had not been finalized in court.

Nevertheless, Peterson married a 19-year-old woman eight days after the divorce was granted. Had the financial aspects of the marriage to his third wife been completed, it is believed his ex-wife would have received a portion of his pension and other types of support in the divorce.

When his fourth wife disappeared, Peterson came under suspicion. As that investigation developed, the body of his third wife was exhumed. Initially ruled an accidental death, that ruling was changed to homicide after another autopsy was conducted. It is that matter that is now being tried in Illinois.

Although Peterson's defense argued against it, prosecutors will be allowed to use statements from his fourth wife made prior to her disappearance. Normally, hearsay testimony is not allowed unless the person who spoke can be cross-examined by defense attorneys. However, a 2008 Illinois law -- which some have referred to as called "Drew's Law" -- now allows hearsay statements from people who are unavailable to be heard during trial, as long as prosecutors are able to prove the witness was murdered to prevent them from testifying.

This ruling will allow potentially incriminating statements to be introduced during Peterson's trial, making it even more important for Peterson to vigorously fight the felony charge against him. The attention surrounding this case has been so intense that a television movie was produced. The amount of media attention given to this case could well impact the Illinois trial, making it particularly important to safeguard the accused man's substantial legal rights as he fights this charge and continue to assert his innocence.

Source: CNN, "Drew Peterson goes on trial in 3rd wife's death; 4th wife still missing," Ed Payne, July 23, 2012

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