Drew Peterson is a killer. It’s official.
The former Bolingbrook police sergeant was found guilty Thursday of first-degree murder in the 2004 drowning death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. He sat stoically when the verdict was read and was later handcuffed and led away from the courtroom.
"He always got everybody else to do his heavy work. He was a thug. He would threaten people because he had a gun and a badge, and nobody ever took him on. Well we took him on now and he lost," Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said outside the courthouse.
A seven-man, five-woman Will County jury spent about 14 hours deliberating over whether to convict a man on a case based solely on hearsay and circumstantial evidence. In the end, the words of Savio’s friends, family and close relations were enough to convince them of his guilt.
"We would like to thank Judge [Edward] Burmila, the bailiffs and the Will County Sheriff's Department for the duration of this trial," the jurors said in a statement later read by Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas. "We have taken the responsibility bestowed on us by the court with a great deal of solemnity and diligence. After much deliberation, we have reached a decision we believe is just."
Hearsay, or a statement not based on the direct knowledge of a witness, isn't usually admissible in court, but Illinois passed a law in 2008, dubbed "Drew's Law," that allowed it in rare circumstances.
Throughout five weeks of testimony, jurors heard of Savio's purported conversations with family and friends about threats Peterson allegedly made against her. In one, Savio said Peterson once held her captive at knife-point in her own home. In another, she said her husband told her he could kill her and make it look like an accident. Another witness said Savio was so fearful of Peterson that she slept with a knife beneath her bed.
Jurors also heard the purported words of Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, through the testimony of a divorce attorney.
Stacy Peterson vanished in October 2007, just days after a phone conversation with that lawyer, Harry Smith. The judge barred any mention of Stacy's disappearance during the trial and it was unclear what the jurors, ordered to avoid media coverage of the case for nearly two years, knew about her or the fact that she's still not surfaced.
Glasgow said Thursday's ruling will lead to a more aggressive look at her disappearance.
It's not immediately clear how much credence jurors gave to the forensic testimony given by a bevy of pathologists. State witnesses were adamant Savio's death was a homicide. Defense witnesses said precisely the opposite.
Peterson now faces a maximum 60 years in prison when he's sentenced Nov. 26. It's not clear if Burmila will take into account the nearly three years Peterson has already spent in jail awaiting trial.
Peterson returned to the county jail after the verdict was read and will be held in segregation until sentencing, said Sheriff Paul Kaupas. Peterson will then move to a state penitentiary.
Whatever the sentence, it could be cut drastically shorter if appeals promised by his defense team are upheld by a higher court. The trial was threatened three times by a mistrial after prosecutorial missteps; errors Peterson's legal team will no doubt attempt to exploit. And there is the question as to the ultimate legality of the hearsay testimony.
"There's going to be an appeal. Believe me, there's several world-class appellate lawyers just waiting to get their teeth into this," said defense attorney Joel Brodksy.
The jurors displayed unity by color-coordinating or otherwise matching their attire. It was business attire on one day; sports jerseys on another. Bewildered court observers searched for meaning in the choices.
|Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said he never doubted his case and now may set his sights on the disappearance of Drew Peterson's fourth wife.|
|Drew's lawyers bemoan a stacked-deck case, and vow to appeal early and often|
|Nick Savio speaks to reporters outside the Will County Courthouse after his former brother-in-law is convicted of murder.|
|Marcia Savio says someone finally heard the cries of her daughter, Kathleen Savio.|
|Will County Sheriff's Office Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas reads a statement from jurors who declined to address the media following their guilty verdict.|
|Stacy Peterson's sister, Cassandra Cales, says her sibling was with her in spirit to hear the verdict against Drew Peterson.|
|Stacy Peterson's friend, Pam Bosco, says she and Stacy Peterson's family will remember Thursday's verdict for a long time.|