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Judge in Drew Peterson case adjourns court early; no decision on mistrial

Will County Sheriff's Office / AP file

Drew Peterson is shown in a May 2009 booking photo.

Updated 4:00 p.m. ET: The judge presiding over the Drew Peterson murder trial ended court early Wednesday to give defense attorneys time to consider whether they still want to pursue a mistrial after a question to a witness from prosecutors prompted jurors to be escorted out the courtroom, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Judge Edward Burmila asked Peterson's defense team to consider the testimony of Thomas Pontarelli be stricken from the record as part of a compromise to their motion for a mistrial with prejudice. If granted, Peterson could not be retried again on the same charges.

During the trial in Joliet, Ill., Will County Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Patton asked Pontarelli about Peterson being angry with him for helping his ex-wife, Kathleen Savio, change some locks in her home.

Peterson, a former Chicago-area police officer, is on trial for the murder of Savio, who was found dead in her bathtub in 2004. 

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Patton asked Pontarelli, who lived next door to Savio, if he had felt intimidated by Peterson. Pontarelli replied he had been, saying "yes ... he accused me of changing the locks. I said I didn't, but I got his message yesterday. "

Asked what the "message" was, Pontarelli told jurors about a 2004 incident where he found a .38-caliber bullet in his driveway, prompting outrage by defense attorney Steven Greenberg.

Greenberg immediately objected, the Tribune reported.

After Pontarelli and the jurors left the courtroom, Burmila asked Patton if she would be able to demonstrate that Peterson had been the one who left the bullet.

She told him she could not. 

"What is the purpose of you trying to let the jury think that Mr. Peterson put a bullet in the driveway of Mr. Pontarelli." Burmila told Patton. "Why would you do that? You are going to leave the jury with the impression that the defendant put it there." 

"This is not negligence or over zealotry, this is intentional," Greenberg said.

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

Prosecutors argued they had not tried to poison the jury.

Burmila told prosecutors the statement about the bullet was not supported by any evidence and that their actions were "very troubling."

"The state's argument makes absolutely no sense to the court whatsoever," he said.

Savio's death was initially ruled an accident, but suspicions were raised after the disappearance of Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, in 2007.

Her body has never been found and she is presumed dead. Peterson maintains that she ran away with another man.

The trial has been a heated contest between both sides from the start, with the defense motioning for a mistrial on the first day and prosecutors making 25 objections during the defense's opening statement. 

Pontarelli testified that he helped Savio install a deadbolt lock on her bedroom door in 2002. He said Peterson asked him not to help his ex-wife and to not change the locks on the front door, to which Pontarelli said he did not do.  

Earlier this week Pontarelli's wife, Mary, testified her son had changed the locks to Savio's front door.

Thomas Pontarelli told jurors of an incident while helping Savio move some of Peterson's belongings into the garage one day, when Peterson arrived and told him "Any friend of hers is an enemy of mine."

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Pontarelli recalled the night that he, Mary, his son Nick and Peterson discovered Savio's body. He said he entered the bathroom after hearing a scream and saw her lying in a clean, and "pristine" bathtub.

He testified that after Peterson checked her pulse, he made a phone call, telling the person on the other line "people were going to think he did it."

The Tribune reported defense attorney Joel Brodsky would not say whether the trial would continue.

"The ball is always in the the judge's court," he said.

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