Thursday, September 6, 2012

“Hard Cases Make Bad Law”

… As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes observed in his dissenting opinion in Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197 (1904), citing an age-old legal maxim. But it’s a lesson we never quite seem to learn.
From the Chicago Tribune’s online edition this afternoon:
Retired Bolingbrook [Illinois] police officer Drew Peterson has been found guilty of murdering his third wife, Kathleen Savio, the verdict eliciting a gasp from a packed Will County courthouse and ending a case that for years has received salacious tabloid news coverage.
Peterson showed no emotion as the verdict was read. He was shackled, said “Good job” to his attorneys and was led off.
Savio’s family and supporters hugged and cried along with witnesses who testified for the state.
Tonight in Chicago, and perhaps throughout the country, there’ll be much rejoicing, and I suppose it’s a good thing Drew Peterson was convicted. If the media reports were accurate, he probably did kill his third wife, and his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, is missing and presumed dead, possibly by Drew Peterson’s hand as well.
Now, for the bad news. Despite Peterson’s conviction, at least one, if not two, of his ex-wives is still dead; he nearly got away with killing one of them and may yet get away with having killed the other; police and prosecutors horribly botched the original investigation into Savio’s death, quite possibly to protect one of their own; and, in the end, in order to get a guilty verdict – one that is potentially vulnerable on appeal – the Illinois General Assembly and the courts had to gut existing hearsay laws to the detriment of the legal system as a whole … all to make up for the original botched investigation that nearly let Drew Peterson get away with murder in the first place.
I know it will never happen, but in a fair world police and prosecutors would be asking themselves some very hard questions today. And not just in Will County, Illinois.


  1. Interesting point of view. The Stacy Peterson case, of course, happened here, in Northern California; it was the lead story for months. I don't recall ever hearing that he was a former cop.

    I'm not a lawyer, but I'm inclined to agree that we're better off with stronger, rather than weaker, hearsay laws. The truth seems to recede farther and farther away as the current political campaign continues.

  2. Scott Peterson murdered his wife, Laci, in CA.


  3. Yes, there’s a lot of confusion over the names. The California case involved Scott and Laci Peterson. Drew Peterson, the suburban Chicago cop, is implicated in the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, who’s presumed dead. Her body has never been found. During the course of investigating Stacy Peterson’s disappearance, the family of Drew Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, asked for her body to be exhumed and re-examined by a forensic expert. That led to the murder charge on which Drew Peterson was convicted yesterday.