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Drew Peterson trial: No hit man testimony allowed, judge rules

Will County Sheriff's Office / AP, file

Drew Peterson, seen in a May 2009 file photo, is charged with the murder of his third wife.

Updated 4:55 p.m. ET: JOLIET, Ill. - A judge on ruled on Tuesday that testimony from a man claiming to have been offered $25,000 by former Chicago area policeman Drew Peterson to kill his third wife would not be allowed.

Peterson is charged with the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, who was found dead in a dry bathtub in 2004. Her death initially was ruled an accident. But when Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007, suspicions were raised and Savio's death was ruled a homicide. Stacy Peterson has never been found and is presumed dead.

Prosecutor James Glasgow began his opening statement on Tuesday by telling the jury that Jeffrey Pachter, a man Peterson worked with at a cable television installation company, has said under oath that Peterson offered him $25,000 to find a hit man to kill Savio.

Defense attorney Steve Greenberg immediately called for a mistrial. Judge Edward Burmila cleared the jury out of the courtroom and allowed Greenberg to make his case for a mistrial.

Burmila rejected the mistrial motion, but ruled that the prosecution could not use anything from Pachter during the trial.

The ruling was a blow to the prosecution because there is little physical evidence to link Peterson to Savio's death and prosecutors hoped to use the testimony of family and associates as evidence of Peterson's guilt.

The judge also admonished defense lawyer Joel Brodsky for launching into a story of Peterson's early life rather than focusing on the facts of the case.

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Brodsky then focused on Savio's character, calling her a liar who had a nasty temper and had attacked Drew Peterson. 

Peterson betrayed no emotion during the morning session of the trial's first day.

The opening statements were interrupted numerous times with objections from both sides.

In its opening statement, the prosecution insisted that the scene where Savio's body was found was "staged." 

“Kathleen Savio’s cold, lifeless body was found in her bathtub ... and it was staged to look like an accident,” state attorney James Glasgow told the court, The Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Glasgow objected 25 times during Brodsky's opening statement, who began recounting his client's service as a police officer and an officer in the Army.

Brodsky characterized Savio as “crazy” and told jurors that she made up lies to fit her purpose. He also went into the prosecution's lack of physical evidence.

The prosecutor's first witness, Savio’s close friend and neighbor, Mary Pontarelli, testified she and another neighbor, Steven Carcerano, entered Savio’s house after a locksmith picked the front door and discovered her body lying inside the bathtub. 

Pontarelli sobbed on the stand as she was shown a picture of Savio's body in the bathtub.

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She told jurors that Savio, 40, had bruises on her wrists and buttocks and blood coming from her mouth.

Prosecutors say Peterson killed Savio because he feared their pending divorce settlement would wipe him out financially. And they believe he killed Stacy, in part, because she knew about Savio's death. 

Peterson started dating Stacy Coles in 2001 -- two years before his marriage with Savio dissolved.

After learning that Peterson took Stacy on a vacation to Mexico in January 2001, Savio had requested an order of protection.

"She files (the petition) with lies, stupid, ridiculous statements," Brodsky told jurors, the Tribune reported.

Glasgow painted Peterson as growing increasingly violent, upping his threats as Savio told him she would take his pension and other assets after their divorce, reported The Tribune.

When a judge ordered him to pay Savio's divorce attorney $15,000 in 2003, Peterson "snuck into the victim's home, grabbed Kathy Savio by the throat and said, 'Why don't you just die? I could kill you and no one would know,'" Glasgow said.

The two filed for divorce in 2003. Peterson had moved out of the home he shared with Savio, and Savio by that point had dropped the order of protection, which Brodsky told jurors suggested she was lying about Peterson being violent.

From the archives: Watch 2007 Dateline NBC video of Drew Peterson discussing Stacy 

"Never again do you hear of Kathy getting an order of protection," Brodsky said, according to The Tribune. "She knew how to get one - but all this stuff about (Peterson's) threats, breaking into her house, Kathy never got another order of protection. You have to ask yourself why."

The real-life drama inspired a TV movie and a national spotlight was put on the case, with speculation about whether Peterson used his law-enforcement expertise in a bid to get away with the murder of Savio and to make Stacy Peterson disappear.

Peterson, a former police sergeant in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, was charged with first-degree murder in Savio's death only after Stacy Peterson went missing. He is a suspect in her disappearance but hasn't been charged.

Jurors in the case include a part-time poet, a letter carrier and a research technician whose favorite TV show is "Criminal Minds."

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