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Peterson lawyers seek to bar autopsy testimony

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Lawyers say examiner's testimony "irretrievably compromised"
  • Savio's family requested private autopsy after exhumation
  • Peterson has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder
  • His fourth wife's disappearance remains unsolved

(CNN) -- An Illinois judge Friday will hear defense requests to bar the testimony of a medical examiner who conducted an autopsy on the wife of former police officer Drew Peterson, who is accused of killing her.

In court papers, lawyers for Peterson say Dr. Michael Baden's testimony has been "irretrievably compromised" because the autopsy was videotaped by a Fox News photographer who assisted in the procedure. Baden performed the private post-mortem at the request of the family of Kathleen Savio, Peterson's third wife, who died in 2004. Baden testified earlier this year that Fox paid his expenses.

Baden is a paid contributor to the network and is slated to testify for the prosecution in Peterson's trial, to begin with jury selection July 8. Circuit Judge Stephen White has ordered prosecutors to turn over the complete video of the autopsy.

Peterson, a former Bolingbrook, Illinois, police sergeant, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Savio's death. An initial autopsy report concluded she died as the result of an accidental drowning, but her body was exhumed and re-examined in 2007 after the still-unsolved disappearance of Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy. Peterson has denied wrongdoing in that case.

Savio was found in the bathtub in her home with a bloody gash on the back of her head while she and Peterson were going through a bitter divorce. The second autopsy, performed by a state medical examiner, found she suffered a 1-inch blunt-force laceration on the back of her head, five scraping abrasions and six blunt-force black-and-blue bruises on her extremities, abdomen and buttock.

Prosecutors in Will County, southwest of Chicago, reclassified Savio's death as a homicide after that procedure. Baden's examination was conducted three days after the state pathologist's review and concluded that the severity of Savio's injuries indicated she died during a struggle.

In Session Correspondent Beth Karas contributed to this report.