A jury in Illinois today found retired Bolingbrook police officer Drew Peterson guilty of the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Peterson generated a media storm after his much-younger fourth wife, Stacy disappeared in 2007. But it was Savio's murder, originally ruled an accident, that he was convicted of in a case that was based mainly on secondhand hearsay.
The Chicago Tribune
reports that the 58-year-old Peterson showed no emotion at the verdict. Shackled, he merely said "Good job" to his attorneys and was removed from the courtroom.
There is no death penalty in Illinois and Peterson now faces a maximum 60-year prison term when sentenced on Nov. 26. A gasp was heard in the packed Will County courthouse when the verdict was read in the case that went on for years.
Savio's family and supporters were emotional. Savio's brother-in-law Mitch Dorman had this to say.
"I knew it. Now I can go out there and say he's a murdering bastard. You can print that. You can put it in a headline."
An emotional Nick Savio, Kathleen's brother, said the verdict for him was
Bittersweet. It's better than a White Sox World Series win. This has been a very long time coming."
He delivered a statement from the Savio family saying Kathleen can now rest in peace.
reports that the trial was a first for Illinois, as prosecutors built their case mainly on hearsay thanks to a new law, named "Drew's Law," tailored to Peterson's case. Prosecutors predicted that this would let his third and fourth wives speak from their graves through family and friends to convict Peterson.
A big question mark at this trial was whether Peterson's personality might influence the jurors. Before he was arrested in 2009 the glib, swaggering Peterson appeared to be taunting authorities and the press. He told jokes on TV talk shows, and at one point, actually suggested a "Win a Date With Drew" contest. His notoriety served to spawn a TV movie starring Rob Lowe.
It all began on March 1, 2004, when Kathleen Savio was discovered by a neighbor lying face down in a dry bathtub. Her long black hair was soaked in blood and she had a 2-inch cut on the back of her head. Kathleen's death was at first considered to be an accident, caused by a freak slip in the tub. But after Peterson's 4th wife, 23-year-old Stacy disappeared in 2007, police decided to exhume Savio's body and upon re-examination, classified it as a homicide.
Prosecutors revealed that although Peterson had divorced Savio a year before her death, his motive for the murder, was his nervousness that a pending settlement, regarding their $300,000 home, would be his financial ruin.
The public's fascination with the former Bolingbrook police sergeant grew on speculation that he would use his 30 years as a law enforcement officer to get away with the murders. Prosecutor believe Peterson killed his 4th wife because she knew about Savio's death. Stacy Peterson's body has never been found and no charges have been filed regarding it against her husband. Jurors were kept from linking her disappearance to Savio's death as prosecutors were not permitted to mention Stacy's name.
Stacy Peterson's family was hoping that a conviction in Savio's murder could lead to charges against Drew Peterson in Stacy's disappearance. Peterson claims that she ran off with another man and is still alive.
But there are questions as to whether Drew Peterson's attorneys will mount an appeal of his conviction, since there was no physical evidence that tied him to Savio's death and no witnesses placing him at the scene. The prosecution had to rely on hearsay, which is ordinarily barred in such cases.
Illinois passed the hearsay law in 2008, allowing such evidence to be admissible in unusual cases. Peterson's attorneys say they may be able to get the conviction overturned, in appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds that Illinois' hearsay law is unconstitutional.
The hearsay used at the trial included a friend, testifying that Savio told her that Peterson once threatened her with a knife and reportedly said,
"I could kill you and make it look like an accident."
Stacy Peterson's pastor, The Rev. Neil Schorii also testified that she told him that her husband got up from bed and left their house in the middle of the night around the time of Savio's death. Stacy disappeared just a few days later in October of 2007 after having that conversation with Smith. Her husband is the only one suspected in her disappearance but so far, has not been charged with it.