— JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — The murder trial of former suburban Chicago police sergeant Drew Peterson began Tuesday with dueling explanations of his third wife's death, clashes over evidence and a teary witness' description of finding her friend's body.
Prosecutors gave jurors an account that could have come from a 1940s pulp novel, in which a man does whatever he must — including murder — to keep his ex-wife's hands off his money.
On the other side, Peterson's attorneys argued the former officer was a victim of something newer: a 24-hour news cycle and cable TV's talking heads, which together created a media frenzy that did not subside until prosecutors had charged an innocent man.
Peterson is charged with first-degree murder in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. He is suspected but not charged in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson.
The prosecution's first witness was Mary Pontarelli, a neighbor who discovered Savio's body in a dry bathtub, her hair soaked with blood.
"I saw Kathleen in the tub, ran out, threw myself on the ground and started screaming," she said, her voice cracking.
Peterson appeared relaxed but engaged Tuesday, jotting notes and occasionally looking back at the crowded spectators' benches.
In a dry tone, Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow told jurors that Peterson, 58, killed Savio, 40, and made it look like an accident.
"Just weeks before her death, he told her he was going to kill her and she would not make it to a divorce settlement and would never get his pension," Glasgow said during his half-hour remarks.
Peterson's real-life drama inspired a TV movie and a national spotlight was put on the case, as many speculated whether Peterson used his law-enforcement expertise to get away with Savio's murder and make 23-year-old Stacy Peterson vanish.
In his opening, defense attorney Joel Brodsky told jurors repeatedly there was no evidence that Savio's death was anything but a tragic accident.
"You will hear nothing but myth, rumor, innuendo and hearsay," Brodsky said about the prosecution's case. "You have a man's life in your hands ... deal with facts."
He also sought to knock down what will certainly be the prosecutors' contention that the investigation into Savio's death was a shoddy one. Brodsky said Illinois State Police investigators were very experienced, and the reason they conducted the investigation was because the Bolingbrook Police Department wanted to make sure there were no questions, as Peterson was one of their high-ranking officers.
Brodksy even said state police "bagged" Savio's hand to preserve any evidence.
Brodsky said Savio's death was an accident because there was no sign of a struggle.
"The bathroom was in perfect order," he said. "There is not one shred of evidence whatsoever that Drew Peterson or anybody else for that matter was in that house. Why? Because this was a household accident, that's why.
"Kathy slipped and fell in a household accident, case closed," Brodsky said.
Brodsky also suggested that Peterson was the victim of a "media circus" after Stacy Peterson disappeared — he was charged in Savio's death after his much younger fourth wife vanished.
Glasgow brought up Stacy Peterson during the prosecution's opening statements, making it clear her disappearance was the key to opening an investigation into Savio's death. Peterson has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
Glasgow also told the jury what has been widely known for years but what the prosecution has not said explicitly: There is no physical evidence linking Peterson to Savio's death. A botched initial investigation will force prosecutors to rely heavily on hearsay evidence — statements not heard directly by witnesses that normally are barred at trials — as well as circumstantial evidence to convince jurors of Peterson's guilt.
It took less than 10 minutes for disputes to erupt over what evidence should be admitted. As Glasgow broached an allegation that Drew Peterson once inquired about paying a hitman to murder Savio, defense attorney Steve Greenberg leapt to his feet to object.
Judge Edward Burmila instructed jurors to leave the room and Greenberg moved for a mistrial. Burmila eventually denied the request, saying Glasgow was just a few words into the allegation before the defense objected.