Saturday, May 30, 2009

Will Family Secrets Mob Attorney, "The Shark" Represent Drew Peterson?

Drew Peterson might want to give Joseph R. Lopez a call.

Lopez, a high-profile attorney, managed to hang a jury in his defense of Peterson at a Thursday night mock murder trial at Chicago-Kent College of Law. WGN Radio sponsored the event and will broadcast it June 14 and 21.

The jury only had a half hour to come up with a unanimous verdict and failed to do so. When asked how they voted, the panel revealed it split 6-6.

The attorneys involved in the mock trial based their cases on information reported through the press, as they do not have access to the state's evidence.

Peterson was unavailable for the mock trial. To get up to Chicago, he would have needed to come up with $20 million bail to get out of the Will County jail, where he is awaiting a real trial for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, who was found drowned in a dry bathtub in March 2004.

Mock prosecutor Karen Conti, an attorney and co-host of WGN Radio's "Legally Speaking," pointed out the questionable death scene that state police found completely unsuspicious until Peterson's next wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished in October 2007.

"None of this makes sense," Conti said. "People don't die this way."

Peterson and Savio were in the midst of a contentious divorce when she turned up dead. She was only weeks away from taking a substantial amount of his assets in divorce court.

"Murders don't make sense," Conti said. "Don't try to make sense of this one."

Lopez, who apparently is nicknamed "the Shark" and is famous for representing alleged mob hit men and drug cartels, argued the murder makes no sense because it is not a murder at all.

"It's obvious that she slipped and fell in the tub," Lopez said.

That's exactly what the state police thought, at least until three and a half years later, when Stacy vanished and mounting public pressure prompted them to re-examine Savio's death.

The state police also are probing Stacy's disappearance. They consider her a "potential homicide" victim and have named Peterson their sole suspect.

While Stacy's case would have to be a mock trial for another day, Conti focused on a conversation the young woman supposedly had with her pastor, the Rev. Neil Schori, only weeks before she disappeared. In the actual trial, prosecutors will likely attempt to get these statements entered through recently passed hearsay legislation dubbed "Drew's Law."

"Drew said, 'I killed Kathleen. I killed Kathleen and made it look like an accident. I hit her in the back of the head and put her in the bathtub,'" Conti claimed Schori said. "Why would he lie?" Conti said. "He doesn't have a dog in this fight."

Lopez was dismissive of Schori's supposed testimony. "Here's another guy who jumped on the bandwagon and claimed Stacy Peterson made those statements," Lopez said, adding, "He lied to you."

He also questioned why Schori, upon supposedly hearing such a shocking revelation, took no action beyond telling Stacy to "go home and pray about it."

The mock trial actually consisted of nothing more than closing arguments — a small section of a real trial.

Lopez said during his argument that he would have called no witnesses during the testimony phase of the trial because "the state failed to prove its case."

Lopez did concede that "everybody hates Drew. There's no question about it." But he then went on to speak to all of his mock client's virtues.

Peterson, for instance, joined the Army. "He didn't have to do that," Lopez said. "He could have been a draft dodger. He could have gone to Canada and smoked pot."

And from the Army, Peterson went on to become a Bolingbrook police officer. "That's not something to sneeze at either," Lopez said. But it was while he was supposed to be protecting and serving that Peterson was storing away the knowledge that would help him plan the murder of his wife, Conti said.

"He was a student of crime," she said. "He was a student of crime scenes. Is it a surprise he didn't leave a trace? I'm not surprised by it."

Lopez maintained Peterson was the victim of a witch hunt conducted by authorities facing intense media scrutiny. And Peterson's public persona didn't help him any either. "People hate him because he likes young girls," Lopez said. "That doesn't make him a killer. They haven't even shown any evidence there was a homicide."

Peterson's real attorney, Joel Brodsky, was in the audience watching the mock trial, possibly hoping to glean ideas for how to defend his client after losing his first two challenges to the state — objecting to a change off judge and attempting to get Peterson's bond reduced.

Despite the spectacle of the mock trial, the gravity of the case was not lost on the participants. In fact, during the proceedings, Conti stressed the reality of Savio's death.

"This is not a book," she said. "It is not a movie. It's a real-life murder with someone executed in the prime of her life."

Thanks to Joe Hosey

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