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Drew Peterson case could influence Will County state's attorney race

In September, Drew Peterson was found guilty of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
In September, Drew Peterson was found guilty of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

(MCT) — In a season of political ads, Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow got airtime worth millions.

Glasgow personally led the prosecution team in the Drew Peterson murder case that held national attention for five weeks of the trial and since Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared in 2007.

In September, fewer than two months before Election Day, Glasgow was able to declare victory over Peterson, who was found guilty of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Glasgow, a Democrat, is seeking his fifth term as state's attorney against a first-time candidate who is trying to paint the longtime prosecutor's most celebrated trial victory as a political liability. While Glasgow assails Plainfield defense attorney Dave Carlson's limited experience, Carlson, 37, also has a high-profile case on his resume. Carlson defended the man wrongfully charged by Glasgow's office in 2010 as the honeybee killer.

Even after taking two months off from campaigning during the Peterson trial, Glasgow has an obvious advantage in name recognition over his opponent.

"He's got a ton of name recognition, but it's high-negative (recognition)," Carlson said in a recent interview. "While people know him, they know his career as a state's attorney hasn't been positive overall.

"Politics and the media is what drives the decisions in that office."

Carlson has criticized Glasgow for taking the role of lead prosecutor in the Peterson case, a rare move for an elected prosecutor and one of only a handful of cases he had tried during his 16 years in the post from 1992 to 2000, then from 2004 to now. In the courtroom, Glasgow was "rusty," Carlson said, and committed errors that caused the judge to consider a mistrial.

Glasgow says he took the lead because he reopened the investigation of Savio's death and had an integral role in building the case and the former Bolingbrook police officer's smirking contempt for the investigation made him an especially galling defendant.

"I took the case, because it was my case," Glasgow said. "No one has ever gone and killed two of their wives and given the justice system the finger the way Drew Peterson did. He laughed at us. He mocked us."

Carlson points out the Peterson trial, particularly a rocky first two weeks in which Glasgow's team sparred with Judge Edward Burmila over a flurry prosecution errors, did not provide glowing headlines for the incumbent. Carlson said he held off on criticizing Glasgow during the trial because he didn't want to compromise the case.

"(Glasgow) said he was 'woozy'" while explaining to the judge why he had let a witness testify about evidence that the judge had barred, Carlson said. "That was hard not to put out a press release. You don't want your state's attorney to be woozy."

Carlson said it was media pressure and not prosecutorial zeal that pushed Glasgow to charge the wrong man as the honeybee killer in 2010. Carlson defended Lynwood police Officer Brian Dorian, who was charged with murder in a bizarre two-state shooting spree during which the gunman asked his victims about honeybees before firing.

Charges against Dorian were dropped a few days later, and the man authorities eventually said was responsible, Gary Amaya, was killed as he tried to rob an Orland Park tanning salon two months later.

Dorian, who lives in Crete Township, now spends his days off canvassing nearby neighbors to win votes for Carlson and attending campaign events. Dorian said the way the case was handled has contributed to police unions endorsing Carlson over Glasgow, and his story seems to sway voters.

"I just ask people, 'Can I have a few minutes to tell you about the man who saved my life, Dave Carlson?'" Dorian said.

Glasgow said a witness to one of the shootings identified Dorian as the killer, who gunned down a worker and shot a second man in rural Beecher, then shot a third man in nearby Lowell, Ind.

Glasgow noted that circumstantial evidence made Dorian a suspect, until analysis of the hard drive from Dorian's home computer proved he was home at the time of the shootings.

"We found the evidence (that exonerated) him, not his lawyers," Glasgow said.

Glasgow is happy to go on the attack against Carlson, noting that Carlson worked as an assistant prosecutor under Jeff Tomczak both when Kathleen Savio was killed and in another sensational murder case that was botched, the 2004 murder of 3-year-old Riley Fox.

Tomczak filed murder charges against Kevin Fox, Riley's father, and Glasgow dropped them after winning re-election, after DNA evidence pointed to another suspect.

"Dave Carlson was there then, and he didn't make a peep about either one," Glasgow said.

For most voters, the lasting impression of Glasgow will be of him on the courthouse lawn, taking credit for Drew Peterson's conviction, said Doug O'Brien, a political consultant who has worked for GOP candidates including Sen. Mark Kirk and former Gov. Jim Edgar.

"It's no question the attention is good," O'Brien said. "Absent any compelling issues like a corruption scandal, and they've had their ups and downs in that office, it really does define the race. It's a huge advantage."

Glasgow points to programs he has championed as prosecutor and laws he has backed to get stiffer penalties for domestic violence, but he admits Peterson seems to be foremost in the public's mind.

"I have never had an outpouring from the community like I have had for what I did with Drew Peterson," he said. "I didn't realize how invested people were in that case."

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