National Roundup

Court upholds Drew Peterson’s murder conviction

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The use of hearsay testimony to convict former Chicago-area police officer Drew Peterson in the death of his third wife was proper, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday in upholding the conviction.

The high court, in a unanimous decision, found that hearsay testimony from Peterson’s missing fourth wife did not violate his constitutional right to confront his accusers.

The 63-year-old former police sergeant from the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook is serving a 38-year sentence in the 2004 death of ex-wife Kathleen Savio. He’s also serving a 40-year sentence after a conviction last year for soliciting the murder of the prosecutor who put him behind bars.

Savio’s body was found in a dry bathtub in 2004. Her death was initially ruled accidental, but the case was reopened after the 2007 disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. Savio’s body was exhumed, an autopsy was conducted and her death was ruled a homicide.

Prosecutors had no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio’s death and no witnesses placing him at the scene, so they relied on hearsay — statements Savio made to others before she died and that Stacy Peterson made before she vanished.

Hearsay is any information reported by a witness that is not based on the witness’ direct knowledge. The U.S. Supreme Court has carved out exceptions for hearsay in cases where a defendant’s actions likely prevented the witness from testifying. Illinois passed a hearsay law in 2008 tailored to Drew Peterson’s case, dubbed “Drew’s Law,” which assisted in making some of the evidence admissible.

Stacy Peterson is presumed dead, though her body has never been found. Drew Peterson remains a suspect in her disappearance, but he has never been charged.

Peterson was transferred from a state prison in Chester, Illinois, to a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, in February, after state prison officials cited concerns that he posed a security threat.

Man can keep animals during cruelty case

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — A judge has rejected a prosecutor’s request to take away all animals belonging to a Wyoming outfitter until an animal cruelty case against him is resolved.

Teton County Circuit Court Judge James Radda noted Wednesday in his ruling that Forest Stearns had not been convicted in the case.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide reports that the 64-year-old Stearns declined comment after the hearing.

Stearns was cited for animal cruelty Aug. 25 by the Teton County Sheriff’s Office after witnesses say he tied down a horse for hours before the animal died.

Stearns has pleaded not guilty to the charge, saying he used common practices in dealing with an unruly horse while he was trying to shoe it. His trial is scheduled for Jan. 24.

Some records in slaying of 4 can be open to public

AYER, Mass. (AP) — Some court records in the case of a Maine man charged with fatally beating his mother, grandparents and their caretaker in a Massachusetts home can be made public, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Margaret Guzman impounded the records after Orion Krause, of Rockport, Maine, was arraigned Sept. 11 in the slayings in Groton three days earlier.

Media outlets challenged the order on constitutional grounds, and the judge rescinded it Wednesday although she said some of the documents will remain closed to the public in accordance with state law.

None of the redacted records will be released immediately because Krause’s lawyer, Edward Wayland, was granted a request that they remain closed while he appeals the decision. He said the documents should remain closed to protect his client’s right to a fair trial and the privacy interests of his family.

Krause, 22, a talented musician who recently graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio, is being held without bail at a mental health facility for a competency evaluation. His next court date is Oct. 30.

In his request to keep the files closed, Wayland included affidavits from a psychiatrist and Krause’s father, Alexander Krause, who said that opening the records would cause the family grief.

Krause has pleaded not guilty in the killings of his mother, Elizabeth Krause, 60; his maternal grandparents, Frank Darby Lackey III, 89, and Elizabeth Lackey, 85; and their caretaker, Bertha Mae Parker, 68.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan has said a baseball bat was found at the scene and may have been used in the killings. No motive has been disclosed.

Ryan’s office, which sought impoundment of the records at Krause’s arraignment, did not oppose the motion to open them.

Prosecutors say state lawmaker spent $51K on online psychic

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Travis County prosecutors say in a court filing that state Rep. Dawnna Dukes spent more than $51,000 on an online psychic, appeared for work at the Capitol impaired and hid a cellphone from investigators.

The filing this week was provided by prosecutors ahead of her Oct. 16 misdemeanor corruption trial and is meant to inform Dukes’ attorneys of the allegations prosecutors will assert during trial.

The Austin Democrat is accused of giving a taxpayer-funded raise to a legislative aide to cover gas money for shuttling Dukes’ daughter back and forth from school.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that prosecutors still want to present a felony case against the lawmaker, alleging that she falsified reimbursement vouchers.

Confessed killer wants to invalidate plea agreement

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals says Oklahoma County District Court must allow a confessed killer an opportunity to respond to a motion to dismiss his lawsuit seeking to overturn his plea agreement.

The court on Wednesday reversed the dismissal of Stephen Craig Burnett’s lawsuit seeking to invalidate a 1994 plea agreement in which he was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole for killing his estranged wife in Tulsa. Burnett alleges changes in parole and pardon rules since 1994 is a breach of the agreement.

The district court ruled it doesn’t have jurisdiction. The appeals court noted the ruling came on the same day a motion from the state to dismiss the case was received and said Burnett must be given 20 days to respond to that motion.