JOLIET, Ill. -- Drew Peterson introduced himself to would-be jurors yesterday as jury selection began in the former suburban Chicago police officer's long-delayed murder trial.
Peterson, 58, is charged with killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. Her body was found in a dry bathtub in her home, her hair soaked with blood. The ex-Bolingbrook police sergeant also is a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, although he has not been charged.
Peterson, his trademark mustache shaved off, stood and spoke to about 40 potential jurors as proceedings began yesterday. "Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I'm Mr. Peterson," he said in a steady voice.
During the trial, jurors are likely to hear statements the women allegedly made to friends and relatives about threats Peterson made. Such hearsay is usually barred, but an appellate court ruled jurors can hear the statements.
The 200-person jury pool has been waiting three years for a trial to get under way. It was put off because of appellate court battles over the hearsay statements.
"I've never heard of anything comparable to this -- a jury pool waiting around for so long knowing what case they're going to be in and the reliance on hearsay," said Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago defense lawyer with no link to the case.
Publicity in the case is an issue as the judge and attorneys question jurors. The legal saga surrounding Peterson and whether he used his status as a police officer to try to get away with murder has attracted national attention. Rob Lowe portrayed Peterson in a 2011 TV movie, "Drew Peterson: Untouchable."
The defense raised concerns that some prospective jurors may have violated orders to avoid all news about Peterson. Some of the half dozen would-be jurors questioned by the judge yesterday acknowledged they have been unable to completely avoid the television, radio and newspaper coverage of the case.
Vetting would-be jurors typically takes a few days, but extra time is sometimes required in high-profile cases to weed out those who come in with well-formed opinions. Opening statements at Peterson's trial in Joliet are slated for next Tuesday.
Jurors are likely to hear from a parade of pathologists who will dispute each other's conclusions about how the 40-year-old Savio died. They will hear about her death being ruled an accident, her body being exhumed after 23-year-old Stacy Peterson's disappearance and the autopsy after which her cause of death was changed from accidental to homicide -- and the continued dispute over those findings.