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Trial’s early stages include the unusual with the ordinary

Will County, as a whole, has had a checkered past when it comes to high-profile cases. Here are some:

Former Wilmington resident Kevin Fox was charged in 2004 with the murder of his 3-year-old daughter, Riley. He was in jail for eight months before DNA evidence cleared him. Glasgow, who was not the state’s attorney at the time of Fox’s arrest, released Fox as soon as he became aware of the DNA evidence.

A dozen Joliet-area hotel owners, managers and employees were arrested in November 2006 in a Will County Sheriff’s Department investigation alleging widespread theft of credit card numbers. But the case, based on an unreliable informant, fell apart in three months and charges against all defendants were dropped.

Lynwood police officer Brian Dorian, 37, a resident of Crete Township, was arrested by Will County police for killing one man and wounding two others in separate shootings in October 2010 near Beecher and Lowell, Ind. He was exonerated days later, when records showed he was home surfing the Internet when the shootings occurred.

Plainfield mom Lisa Stebic was reported missing in April 2007. No trace of her has ever been found. Plainfield police named her husband, Craig Stebic, as a “person of interest” in her disappearance, but he has not been charged in connection with the case.

In February 2008, a gunman killed five women shopping in a Lane Bryant store in Tinley Park. Despite a task force of area police departments working the case, it remains unsolved.

Updated: September 3, 2012 1:21PM

JOLIET — Two days into Drew Peterson’s murder trial, and already defense attorneys twice have asked for a mistrial after the prosecution attempted to introduce excluded evidence.

Will County Judge Edward Burmila held off on granting defense attorneys’ request for a mistrial Wednesday after prosecutors asked a witness about a bullet found in the man’s driveway. Will County Judge Edward Burmila said he would not issue his ruling on the request without first giving defense attorneys the option of instead seeking to throw out all of the man’s testimony.

The first mistrial motion came Tuesday, after Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow tried to suggest that Peterson offered a co-worker $25,000 to help him kill Kathleen Savio during his opening statement.

Burmila sided with Peterson, though he denied the first mistrial motion.

Courtroom drama

The drama coming out of courtroom 407 is not all that unusual, said Tom Thanas, a lawyer and former judge who is currently the city manager of Joliet.

“When I hear what’s going on, I’m not surprised,” he said. “What you’re seeing with the Peterson trial is no different than what happens in most of the other trials that are heard at the courthouse.

“The fact that this is the most publicized trial that I’ve seen in the last three decades exposes it more to the public, and makes it seem unusual.”

Jeff Tomczak, who beat Glasgow as state’s attorney in 2000 and lost to him in 2004, has been following the case through the media.

“No disrespect to Jim Glasgow, but it’s concerning he has not personally tried a case before a jury in 15 years,” Tomczak said. “Putting yourself in a murder case that appears to be very fact-driven and requires paying very close attention to the evidence was disconcerting for a lot of local attorneys.”

Tomczak said it is not usual to have two mistrial motions early on, but instructing witnesses about excluded evidence is customary.

“The common example is a police officer mentioning a defendant’s criminal history. He might be familiar with it, but unless the defendant (already) testified to it on the stand, it’s not allowed. Witnesses have to (be) instructed all the time to preserve the case,” Tomczak said.

Faced lawsuit

Last year, Glasgow was among those sued by a Lynwood police officer falsely accused of a two-state shooting rampage. In October 2010, Brian Dorian was identified as the “honeybee killer” and charged with murder — only to be exonerated days later.

While the state’s attorney has been dismissed from the current case against police, Gregory Kulis, Dorian’s attorney, has said a lawsuit will be refiled against Glasgow, which the judge allowed.

While Kulis claims Will County prosecutors rushed to charge his client, he does not believe that occurred with this case.

“But I’ve still questioned certain tactics as they’ve proceeded in the prosecution of Mr. Peterson,” Kulis said. “It seems sometimes with high-profile cases, they’ve lost sight of the burden they have to prove when they charge them.”

DuPage County defense attorney Kathleen Zellner, who represented former Wilmington resident Kevin Fox when he was charged in 2004 with the murder of his 3-year-old daughter, said it is somewhat unusual that the motion for a mistrial has happened two days in a row.

“You should know exactly what you’re going to ask (witnesses) and it should be very clear what you cannot do. I don’t think it’s off to a great start for the prosecutors,” Zellner said.

However, she added that the tension of the first two days likely will not mean an end to the trial.

“It would be too extreme to say, ‘Oh the whole case is lost, might as well just forget it and walk away.’ That’s not going to happen,” she said. “You can get off to a rocky start and still win. Cases are won on circumstantial evidence. It happens all the time.

“What I’ve found over the years is, once someone’s charged with a crime ... people presume they’re guilty. You start out behind the eight ball as the defendant,” Zellner said. “I would say right now these things have evened the playing ground, but I don’t think things have tipped one way or another.

“My experience with Jim Glasgow is that he’s a person of very high integrity,” Zellner said. “I don’t see him as someone who would cut any corners to get a conviction.”

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