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'Shark' joins Drew Peterson's defense amid shakeup

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
Joseph "The Shark" Lopez joins the Peterson defense team. He is known for defending mobsters.
Joseph "The Shark" Lopez joins the Peterson defense team. He is known for defending mobsters.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chicago attorney Joseph "The Shark" Lopez joins Peterson defense team
  • Two attorneys ask to withdraw from the case two months before murder trial
  • Lopez gained prominence during Chicago's federal "Family Secrets" mob trial
  • Charges against Peterson, 56, came amid investigation of fourth wife's disappearance

(CNN) -- Former Illinois police officer Drew Peterson has changed up his defense team two months before the murder trial in his third wife's death is scheduled to begin.

Joining the defense team is Joseph Lopez, a veteran trial attorney nicknamed "The Shark." He is known in legal circles and among mafia buffs for representing some of Chicago's most notorious mobsters.

Peterson lost two other attorneys last week after they filed motions asking to withdraw from the case, citing "irreconcilable differences" with lead attorney Joel Brodsky.

Brodsky said the shakeup would not affect the trial's June start date.

"We absolutely want to go on as planned. Drew wants to go to trial June 14, I want to go to trial on June 14 and Mr. Lopez will be ready on June 14," Brodsky said in a telephone interview Friday.

Charges against Peterson, 56, for the death of Kathleen Savio came amid an investigation into the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy. He has pleaded not guilty to charges he murdered Savio and denies involvement in Stacy's disappearance.

Lopez, a friend of Brodsky's, is no stranger to Peterson's case. He "represented" Peterson in a mock trial staged in 2009 for a local radio station. The mock trial ended in a hung jury.

His law firm doesn't have a Web site. Instead, Lopez said he prefers to rely on his reputation for tenacious cross-examination and off-the-cuff remarks to the press to bring in clients.

"They just come, like moth to a flame," he said in a phone interview. "I've always been ruthless when it comes to this kind of stuff -- anything, you name it."

Lopez speaks proudly of his roots in the heart of Chicago's Little Italy, where he was born and raised, and scoffs at the irony of his high-profile representation of 13 mobsters in the "Family Secrets" federal trial, which is credited with taking down the upper echelons of the Chicago Syndicate.

Lopez said his arguments in the Peterson mock trial mirror his view that Savio's death was an accident that only became a homicide when authorities couldn't pin charges on Peterson for Stacy's disappearance. Stacy still hasn't been found.

It's just a straight-up case of an accident that later turned into an allegation of murder.
--Joseph Lopez, defense attorney
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"It's just a straight-up case of an accident that later turned into an allegation of murder. There's no DNA, no scientific evidence, bunch of expert witnesses that disagree on the cause of death, and that raises reasonable doubt right there."

Brodsky said Lopez's years of experience as a trial attorney and his shared view of the defense strategy in Peterson's case made him an ideal replacement for Andrew Abood and George Lenerd, who asked to withdraw from the case on Wednesday.

Abood said that he and Lenerd were not forced off the case, attributing the decision to leave to personality differences with Brodsky.

"Joel's a different kind of lawyer than I'm used to," he said. "He's a very good lawyer in his office and he's very knowledgeable, but to be a trial lawyer and to present a case requires a certain amount of skill and ability to think on your feet and understand issues and an ability to communicate those issues to jurors."

Brodsky, however, said it was impossible to divorce the concept of clashing personalities from trial strategy when defending a client charged with murder.

"Everybody's got their own style, everybody has their own ideas, and maybe when he tries to convince me that his way is the right way and I don't agree with him, maybe he considers that to be a personality conflict," Brodsky said.

"I'm sorry he couldn't see things my way, but there can only be one boss, one bus driver, one captain of the ship, whatever you want to call it. You can try to convince, you can try to argue, try to make people see things your way, but if you can't agree when the captain or coach or lead counsel makes the final decision, and you really can't go along with it, then I guess you have to step aside."

The two attorneys left on good terms with Peterson, Abood said. "We shook hands and wished each other the best."

As for Brodsky?

"I don't think Joel will be inviting me to any Christmas parties," Abood said.

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