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Mistrial threat diffused, Drew Peterson case moving ‘full speed ahead’

Joel Brodsky. one Drew Peterson's attorneys arrives for start day three Drew Petersmurder trial Will County Courthouse Joliet Aug. 2

Joel Brodsky. one of Drew Peterson's attorneys, arrives for the start of day three in the Drew Peterson murder trial at the Will County Courthouse in Joliet on Aug. 2, 2012. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 4, 2012 6:13AM

The Drew Peterson mistrial scare is over. For now.

The former Bolingbrook police sergeant remains on trial for killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio. And after asking Judge Edward Burmila for a ruling that could have set him free, his attorneys said they weren’t surprised he shot them down.

“Mistrials are rare,” lead defense attorney Joel Brodsky said. “To get one on the second day of the trial is almost unheard of.”

Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow, meanwhile, could be going on the offensive. His team is preparing another apparent bid to tell jurors about an alleged $25,000 offer Peterson made to a co-worker to help him kill Savio. The mostly mum lead prosecutor also took a minute to defend his prosecutors Thursday.

“We’re prepared to move full speed ahead,” Glasgow said. “And the reputation of our office, I’d put it against any state’s attorney’s office in the state of Illinois.”

With that, testimony in the trial continued as prosecutors called the locksmith and paramedics who came to Savio’s home the night she was found dead in her dry bathtub.

But DePaul University law professor Leonard Cavise said the judge now has Glasgow on notice. Burmila let defense attorneys take Peterson’s case to the brink of a mistrial, Cavise said, and he’s likely keeping track of prosecutors’ misconduct.

“If that list gets longer, he will get closer and closer to declaring a mistrial,” Cavise said.

The judge said prosecutors knew what they were doing Wednesday when they prompted Savio neighbor Tom Pontarelli to testify he found a .38-caliber bullet in his driveway, even though they knew they couldn’t prove Peterson put it there. That prompted Peterson’s attorneys to ask for a mistrial, and the ruling hung over prosecutors’ heads until Thursday morning.

But Burmila said Assistant State’s Attorney Kathleen Patton was not trying to cause a mistrial as Peterson’s attorneys alleged. He also said Peterson still has a shot at a fair trial.

That all came, though, after the judge blasted Patton Wednesday and accused her of landing a “low blow.” He told jurors Thursday to ignore that round of questioning, along with anything they heard about a bullet.

DuPage County defense attorney Kathleen Zellner said it speaks highly of Burmila that he wants Peterson to have a fair trial — and that he became upset when a fair trial seemed to be in danger.

“He’s sending a clear signal he wants everybody to play by the rules,” Zellner said.

Peterson’s lawyers are widely expected to appeal if he’s convicted — “of course there will be an appeal,” Cavise said — but if that happens he and Zellner downplayed the role Wednesday’s misstep would play.

Zellner said Burmila corrected the problem by tossing part of Pontarelli’s testimony. And she trusts the jurors to ignore it as Burmila said.

“I think they will follow his instructions,” Zellner said.

Lawyers almost followed up the morning’s drama with a high-stakes witness: former Savio divorce attorney Harry Smith, who has said Savio repeatedly warned him Peterson would kill her. They got into a long argument over how Smith’s testimony should be limited, and they ultimately decided to hold off.

Jurors instead heard from paramedics Louis Oleszkiewicz, Michael Johnson and Tim Berkery, firefighter Lt. Michael Newton and locksmith Robert Akin.

Prosecutors repeatedly asked the first-responders if they left a blue towel that could be seen in photographs, shown in the courtroom, of Savio’s dead body in her bathtub.

Prosecutors contend Peterson killed Savio and then staged the scene to make it look like she drowned accidentally while taking a bath. And they’ve said it should be noted there was no towel or bath mat near the tub when Savio’s body was found, items they suggested a person taking a bath would have handy.

All of the first responders testifying Thursday said the towel seen in the photograph -- taken later -- wasn’t there when they arrived, and they all denied putting it there.

They also said Peterson asked them to treat the scene with “respect” when they arrived.

“This is my ex-wife,” he told them.

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