JOLIET, Ill. — Jurors convicted Drew Peterson of murdering his third wife Thursday, capping a sensational, five-year legal saga that began after the swaggering former Illinois police officer’s fourth wife vanished.
Peterson, 58, sat stoically as the verdict was read. He faces a maximum 60-year prison term when sentenced on Nov. 26. Illinois has no death penalty.
The prosecution built its case almost exclusively on circumstantial and hearsay evidence, including testimony about what Peterson’s wives had told friends and acquaintances before the one died and the other disappeared. The verdict was a vindication for Will County prosecutors, who gambled by putting on such a case and then committed numerous stumbles during testimony that drew angry scoldings from the judge.
Over the course of the investigation and prosecution, Peterson had seemingly taunted authorities, joking on talk shows and even suggesting a “Win a Date With Drew” contest. His notoriety even inspired a TV movie starring Rob Lowe.
A neighbor found Kathleen Savio’s body on March 1, 2004, face down in a dry bathtub of her suburban home outside Chicago. Her thick black hair was blood-soaked and she had a 2-inch gash on the back of her head.
The drowning death of the 40-year-old aspiring nurse was initially deemed an accident – a freak slip in the tub. After Peterson’s fourth wife, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson, went missing in 2007 was Savio’s body exhumed, re-examined and her death reclassified as a homicide.
The 12 jurors, who raised eyebrows by donning different color-coordinated clothes each day of testimony, deliberated for XXdays/hours before reaching a decision. The seven men and five women included a poet, a letter carrier and a man who said his favorite TV show was “Criminal Minds.”
Peterson had divorced Savio a year before her death. His motive for killing her, prosecutors said, was fear that a pending settlement, which included their $300,000 home, would wipe him out financially.
Fascination nationwide with the former Bolingbrook police sergeant arose from speculation he sought to parlay three decades of law enforcement expertise into getting away with murder.
Prosecutors suspect he killed his fourth wife because she could finger him for Savio’s death. Stacy Peterson’s family hoped a conviction in Savio’s murder could lead to charges against Drew Peterson in Stacy’s disappearance.
Jurors weren’t supposed to link the fourth wife’s disappearance to the third’s death. Prosecutors were prohibited from even telling jurors Stacy Peterson is presumed dead or that her husband is the lone suspect in her disappearance. He says she ran off with another man and is still alive.
Prosecutors faced enormous hurdles.
They had no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio’s death and no witnesses placing him at the scene. They were forced to rely on typically barred hearsay – statements Savio made to others before she died and that Stacy Peterson made before she vanished. In 2008, Illinois passed a law tailored to Peterson’s case, dubbed “Drew’s Law,” permitting hearsay at trials in rare circumstances.