Peterson pleads not guilty to murdering wife

May 18, 2009 9:13:48 AM PDT
Former police officer Drew Peterson pleaded not guilty Monday to killing his third wife, whose death was reclassified as a homicide after the suburban officer's fourth wife disappeared. Peterson, who has been jailed since May 7, was formally arraigned on first-degree murder charges in the 2004 slaying of Kathleen Savio.

After his plea, prosecutors asked that Judge Richard Schoenstedt be removed from Peterson's case. They did not give a reason. Peterson's lawyer challenged the move, and a hearing was set for Thursday before another judge.

The prosecution move derailed defense attorney Joel Brodsky's plan to ask for a bail reduction, from $20 million to less than $500,000.

"Drew has proven he is not a flight risk or danger to the community. Bonds are not supposed to be punitive, but to ensure someone's presence in court," Brodsky said on NBC's "Today."

Peterson is accused of drowning Savio, who was found dead in a dry bathtub in 2004 with a gash on the back of her head. Her death was originally ruled an accident. But after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared in 2007, Savio's body was exhumed, and authorities reclassified her death as a homicide after an autopsy.

Peterson, 55, has denied any involvement in Savio's death or Stacy Peterson's disappearance.

Peterson's numerous media appearances, where he has gained a reputation for making smart-aleck remarks, could play a big role as prosecutors try to lock him up.

Peterson, of suburban Bolingbrook, has never shied from the media, seeming to relish the spotlight and often joking to reporters. As he was led to his first court appearance this month, he referred to his prison-issued jumpsuit as a "spiffy outfit."

And that, attorneys say, could be one of Peterson's biggest problems.

"If one wife goes missing and (another) wife is dead, those aren't usually the subject of jokes," said Roy Black, a defense attorney whose clients have included Rush Limbaugh and William Kennedy Smith. "People are going to think this is a very bizarre person, who's more likely to have committed murder than someone who is in mourning."

Brodsky has said that joking around is how Peterson deals with stress.

His personality is "unique, but he's honest," the lawyer said Monday.

"He doesn't try to act or change the way he is in order to come across and I think that that will resonate with the jury to show his honesty if, in fact, he does choose to testify," Brodsky said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Peterson has said he wouldn't behave any other way.

"Would it be better if I hid my head down and tried to hide my face and hunched and had tears in my eyes?" he asked NBC's Matt Lauer during a telephone interview aired Friday on "Today." "I mean, no, that's just not me."

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