JOLIET -- A day after a law was passed to supposedly pave the way for his prosecution on a murder charge, Drew Peterson slipped out of court a free man when a judge dropped the felony gun rap he faced.
Peterson -- the sole suspect in his much-younger fourth wife's October 2007 disappearance and the subject of public scrutiny for the unsolved March 2004 homicide of his third wife -- hugged and kissed his two attorneys and made the obligatory "I'm going to Disneyland" remark after Thursday's hearing at the Will County Courthouse.
Peterson will not actually be heading to Disneyland, but one of his lawyers, Joel Brodsky, said Peterson is "going to have a few beers, if nothing else. That's for certain."
Schoenstedt had ordered the surrender of the documents to Peterson's legal team so they could prepare to prove Peterson was the victim of a vindictive prosecution.
Because Connor defied his order to turn over the documents, Schoenstedt had the option of jailing Connor, fining him, going ahead with the gun case without the ordered documents or dismissing the case.
If Connor had chosen to comply with Schoenstedt's order, it "would have opened a Pandora's box for prosecutors across the state," said Charles B. Pelkie, the spokesman for the state's attorney's office.
Connor said his research showed no judge in Illinois had ever ordered prosecutors to turn over internal documents as possible evidence to show vindictive prosecution.
"What (Brodsky) was looking for was essentially a fishing expedition," Pelkie said. "It's unprecedented, as far as we know,"
Pelkie said prosecutors disagree with Schoenstedt's ruling and will appeal it.
He had been charged with felony unlawful use of a weapon for possessing an assault rifle with a barrel allegedly shorter than the state-mandated 16-inch length.
Peterson maintained throughout that he carried the weapon as part of his duties on the Bolingbrook Police Department's SWAT team.
His attorneys claimed Peterson was the subject of vindictive prosecution spurred by resentment when he triumphed in a civil action to get back firearms seized by police. State police also revoked Peterson's firearm owner's identification card after Schoenstedt ruled Peterson should get his guns back.
Brodsky said the state police were at the root of the vindictive prosecution and said Connor dropped the case rather than release records that would have proved it.
"We believe the only real reason the state didn't want to turn over the documents is they would have helped us," he said.
Peterson was relieved the charge was dropped.
"There's potential to put me in prison over this," he said, "and I don't want to go."
"I don't think it's significant in this situation," Brodsky said of the law, which makes statements of murder victims admissible in court if the victims were killed in order to silence them.
While he does not think the new law poses a problem for his client, Brodsky objects to it on principle.
"This law will allow rumor, innuendo, gossip to replace evidence," he said.
As a Bolingbrook police officer, he was indicted in June 1985 on charges of official misconduct and failure to report a bribe.
Two months later, the village's board of police and fire commissioners found him guilty of disobedience, conducting a self-assigned investigation, failure to report a bribe immediately and official misconduct, and he was fired from the police department.
Peterson was working under the auspices of the multijurisdictional Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad when he allegedly committed the crimes. The indictments alleged he solicited drugs in exchange for information about his agency.
The charges later were dropped. Special prosecutor Raymond Bolden said at the time that the charges were not provable.
Peterson won reinstatement with the department in March 1986. Judge Edwin Grabiec ruled police and fire commissioners lacked sufficient evidence to find Peterson guilty of the charges.