Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Drew Peterson Jury Reaches Verdict: Guilty of Murder

Drew Peterson. Police photo.

After a trial that began over a month ago, Drew Peterson was convicted Thursday of the first-degree murder of his third wife Kathleen Savio. The questions surrounding the 2007 disappearance of his 4th wife Stacy Peterson remain unanswered. Drew Peterson’s demeanor remained inscrutable as the verdict was read.

A Joliet, Illinois jury of seven men and five women took roughly 14 hours over 2 days to find the former policeman guilty of his ex-wife’s murder. After the verdict, interviews with the jury provided a window into their deliberations. Juror Ron Supalo told the Chicago Tribune that he was the last holdout — by their third vote, the jury was split 11-1 for guilt. “It was problematic not to have real hard evidence,” Supalo said about the State’s circumstantial case. Another juror, Scott Washington, may have summed it up best: “It was a tough decision… but I think it was just.”

The relatively long deliberations were punctuated with several jury requests for transcripts of hearsay witnesses and photos of Savio’s corpse. On Thursday afternoon, the jury provoked thoughts of a hung jury when it sent out a note to Judge Edward Burmila asking for a definition of “unanimous.” But the panel took less than two hour more to reach their decision. Throughout the trial, the jury seemed to get along with each other. The panel elicited chuckles in the courtroom by consistently wearing color-coordinated outfits. One day, they would all wear red, then black, then blue — one day, they all wore Chicago sports-team paraphernalia.

Peterson’s winding road to the courtroom might have started in 2004 when his ex-wife Kathleen Savio was found dead. But authorities first ruled it was an accidental bathtub drowning. When Peterson’s next wife Stacy went missing in 2007, police suspected Peterson and built a case against him.

Kathleen Savio. Family photo.

With no direct evidence tying Drew Peterson to the murder, prosecutors built a case around hearsay testimony. Jeffry Pachter, a former Peterson co-worker, told jurors that Peterson asked him to find a hitman to kill Savio in 2003. And Stacy Peterson’s minister Neil Schori took the witness stand to say that Stacy had confided in him that Peterson had killed Savio. Of course, this testimony could not be substantiated by Stacy Peterson herself, since she is still missing — a fact not told to the jury.

The defense was highlighted by the testimony of Thomas Peterson, Savio’s oldest son, who stood up for his accused father, telling the jury that he strongly believed his father to be innocent of the crime.

Both sides delivered passionate closing arguments to sway the jury to their interpretation of the evidence. Prosecutor Chris Koch pointed to Savio’s numerous injuries as proof that her death was not an accidental fall in the bathtub. “I ask you to keep in mind common sense, common sense.” he asked the jury, “Because it is clear that this man murdered Kathleen Savio.”

Lead defense attorney Joe Lopez fought back against by blaming the media firestorm and public hysteria against his client as overwhelming the lack of proof of Drew Peterson’s guilt. “The framers of the Constitution would barf at this evidence,” Lopez exclaimed with bravado, “People get on the TV and lie, just like they do in this courtroom.”

In the end, the jurors chose to believe Peterson was responsible for Savio’s death — much to the joy and relief of the victim’s long-suffering family. “We finally got that murdering bastard!”, Savio’s brother-in-law Mitch Doman told reporters. Nick Savio, the victim’s brother, said Drew Peterson’s time in the courtroom might not be done: “Stacy, you are now next for justice,” he predicted.

Drew Peterson’s sentencing hearing was set for November 26. He faces a maximum sentence of 60 years behind bars. Peterson’s defense team had indicated they will appeal the verdict.

Former Cop and Accused Wife Killer Drew Peterson

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