After a marathon jury selection session Monday that lasted more than 10 hours and seated a total of eight jurors, the process of seating eight more people to stand in judgment of Drew Petersonin the murder of Kathleen Saviobegan this morning.
By noon today, 12 jurors, six men and six women, had been selected. By this afternoon, one of four alternates had been selected.
Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, is accused of drowning Savio, his third wife, in her bathtub in 2004. He is the sole suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, but has not been charged.
The process of winnowing the field of 212 jurors, more than four times the number summoned for the jury pool in a typical Will County criminal trial, has been unique for more than its sheer size. Some 240 jurors were summoned two years ago, when Peterson first was set to go to trial.
Then the case was stalled by a last-minute dispute over hearsay evidence. When Judge Stephen White released the jurors, he ordered them not to read or watch any reporting on the case— then the hearsay appeals took two years to wind through the courts.
Outside the courthouse, defense attorneys said White's order turned out well— a jury that had been summoned only a few weeks before the trial wouldn't have been obliged to avoid news about the case— or the TV movie that aired in April.
White's order has been a major topic in the questioning of jurors — called voir dire, an Old French phrase with Latin roots that means roughly "that which is true." Most jurors said they had done their best to avoid news about the case, but admitted it had been difficult to miss at least the headlines. Several admitted to having watched the Lifetime TV movie "Drew Peterson: Untouchable."
A grandmother picked to serve on the jury said for the past two years she has scrupulously avoided exposure to Peterson-related news, having her husband read the paper each day and having him destroy any editions that mention the case.
Another woman thought she had been released from jury duty when White retired earlier this year, so she read up on the case, watched "Untouchable" and talked about the case with her fiance, a retired Chicago Police officer. She was dismissed by the judge.
Overall, Judge Edward Burmila dismissed about a dozen jurors "for cause," meaning he determined there was strong reason to believe they couldn’t serve as unbiased, fair jurors, mostly because they had been prejudiced by media accounts.
Opening arguments in the case are scheduled for July 31.