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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Drew Peterson gun case still on

Judge refuses to drop charges -- lawyers confident

July 31, 2008

Staff Reporter
Chicago Sun-Times

Drew Peterson lost his attempt Wednesday to have two felony weapons charges dismissed, but his attorneys said they're confident he'll win when the case goes to trial.

A Will County judge rejected an argument by Peterson's attorneys that federal law allows the retired Bolingbrook police officer to own the assault rifle that prompted his arrest.

The ruling by Judge Richard Schoenstedt clears the way for Peterson -- who has been labeled a suspect in his fourth wife's 2007 disappearance -- to stand trial later this year on charges he possessed an AR-15 assault rifle with an illegally short barrel.

Peterson, 54, faces a maximum five-year prison term if convicted.

"The prosecution is continuing, so it's not a total victory," defense attorney Joel Brodsky said, but he added: "There are many positive aspects to this [ruling]."

Schoenstedt could set a trial date when Peterson next appears in court Aug. 28. Prosecutors praised the ruling, saying they're eager to take the case to trial.

"We're just pleased we can move forward with the case," said Charles Pelkie, a spokesman for Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow.

The weapons charges are the only ones filed against Peterson, whose fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared last October.

Authorities have also reopened their investigation into the 2004 drowning death of Peterson's third wife, Kathleen Savio. Her death, initially ruled an accident, was reclassified a murder after Stacy Peterson's disappearance.

State Police seized the assault rifle and other weapons last November during a search of Peterson's Bolingbrook home. It wasn't until May that prosecutors filed the first weapons charge against him, alleging the barrel of the AR-15 is shorter than the 16-inch limit set by state law. They added a second charge in July, contending Peterson transferred the illegal weapon to his adult son Stephen.

Peterson's attorneys, though, argued the gun charges should be dismissed because a 2004 federal law allows police officers nationwide to own and carry weapons, regardless of state laws.
"It would be an illegal gun for a non-police officer," Brodsky said.

Prosecutors disputed that, arguing that even with the federal law, police officers can't carry weapons that are illegal under state law.

Though Schoenstedt refused to dismiss the weapons charges, he indicated the crucial issue in Peterson's trial may be whether the federal legislation supersedes state gun laws -- and said he has found no clear answer to that question.

Peterson, who remains free on bail, declined to comment as he left the courthouse, but he waved to several spectators.
If found guilty of the current charges, Peterson could face up to 6 years in prison.

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