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Ex-cop attends hearing in wife's death

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:47 PM EDT, Fri May 4, 2012
Drew Peterson is a suspect in his fourth wife's disappearance and has been questioned about the murder of his third wife.
Drew Peterson is a suspect in his fourth wife's disappearance and has been questioned about the murder of his third wife.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The case was transferred to Judge Edward Burmila
  • NEW: The next hearing is set for May 17, though no trial date has been set
  • In April, an Illinois appellate court ruled hearsay evidence may be used against Peterson

(CNN) -- In his first court appearance in nearly two years, former police officer Drew Peterson entered an Illinois courtroom Friday for a hearing in his upcoming murder trial.

Wearing blue jail clothes, the former police sergeant walked in shackles and looked older and a bit thinner than his last appearance.

He is accused of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. He remains under investigation in the October 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson.

Judge Sarah Jones presided briefly on Friday before the case was transferred to Judge Edward Burmila. The next hearing is set for May 17, though no trial date has been set.

Friday's hearing comes after a controversial ruling was made earlier this year in the widely followed murder case.

In April, an Illinois appellate court ruled that prosecutors can use potentially incriminating statements made by Savio and Peterson's still-missing wife against him.

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That ruling overturned an earlier judge's decision that forbid prosecutors from using eight statements made by Savio before her death and by Stacy Peterson before her disappearance.

When Savio was found dead in 2004, her death was ruled accidental.

After Stacy Peterson went missing in October 2007, her husband became the focus of a police investigation. Authorities exhumed Savio's body and conducted a second autopsy, this time ruling her death a homicide.

Since Savio is dead and Stacy Peterson is missing, the defense has argued that using their alleged statements to family and friends violates Peterson's Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him.

In general, hearsay statements made to third parties cannot be introduced at trial unless a defendant can cross-examine the person who made them. There are some exceptions if prosecutors can prove the statement is reliable. But a new Illinois law, which some call "Drew's Law," goes beyond those exceptions.

The law, passed while investigators were looking for Stacy Peterson, allows courts to consider statements from "unavailable witnesses," provided prosecutors can prove the witness was killed to prevent his or her testimony.

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