The former police sergeant accused of killing his third wife awaits trial in Joliet, Illinois. After the disappearance of Stacy Peterson, wife number four, the body of Kathleen Savio, Peterson’s third wife was exhumed for a new autopsy. The coroner found that Savio died of drowning following a struggle — a homicide staged to look like an accident. After a lengthy delay while the Illinois appellate court reviewed some evidentiary questions, the case went to trial. On September 6, 2012, after 5 weeks of trial and 2 days of deliberations, the jury found Drew Peterson GUILTY in the murder of Kathleen Savio. Peterson is currently appealing his conviction and his motion filed November 16 cites, among other errors, ineffective assistance of counsel from his longtime attorney Joel Brodsky.
Drew Peterson is charged with the first degree homicide of Kathleen Savio. The consequence of a conviction would be life in prison without the possibility of parole. Illinois abolished the use of capital punishment in 2011, so Peterson will not be death penalty-eligible.
The allegations and suspicions that former police sergeant and army veteran Drew Peterson killed his third and fourth wives are, in some respects, the most shocking kind of cases. We often think of those who dedicate themselves professionally to public service as the best humanity has to offer, and it’s always troubling to learn that they may be no better than the people they have been protecting us from. Because of this, the Drew Peterson case has achieved a level of notoriety that has fascinated the public since Stacy Peterson’s 2007 disappearance.
In addition to providing legal commentators (including Wild About Trial, of course!) with much to discuss, the investigation and ensuing legal drama have sparked numerous books and a made-for-TV movie starring Rob Lowe as Drew Peterson.
Stacy Peterson was ex-cop Drew Peterson’s fourth wife when she abruptly disappeared in late October of 2007. Her husband became the investigation’s “person of interest” after reports he had purchased three large blue barrels before Stacy’s disappearance and was seen carrying one of these barrels shortly after she was reported missing. The police searched his property four times but found no trace of Stacy.
Stacy’s disappearance brought the death of Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, back to the forefront. Peterson had been cleared of liability in Savio’s death, but as rumors swirled and the story captured the national media’s attention, the Savio story was unearthed — literally, as well at metaphorically.
Savio was found dead in a waterless bathtub, six months after she and Peterson divorced. At the time of her death, the coroner ruled it an accidental drowning. After the disappearance of his fourth wife, however, Savio’s body was exhumed and underwent further forensic examination at the request of Savio’s relatives, and, oddly, Fox News, a media outlet that was heavily covering the disappearance story. Upon re-examination, Savio was found to have died of drowning following a struggle, and the state prosecuting agency decided to present the case for indictment. Prosecutor James Glasgow said Savio’s death was a “homicide staged to look like an accident.”
In May of 2009, Drew Peterson was indicted by an Illinois grand jury and charged with the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. The trial was delayed while an Illinois appellate court made decisions on various evidentiary issues, such as whether certain hearsay testimony could be admitted at trial.
Peterson’s defense team has numerous pre-trial motions to determine which evidence may be heard at trial. Specifically, Peterson asked that the judge exclude testimony from Stacy Peterson’s pastor and Kathleen Savio’s divorce lawyer since neither woman is available to testify to those facts herself. The judge ruled against Peterson on those motions.
Another evidentiary blow against Peterson is that the judge is permitting prosecutors to look at several old battery cases involving Kathleen Savio. These cases had been expunged, making them unavailable to the public.
Peterson won, however, on the motion to exclude the jurors from viewing any television interviews Peterson made subsequent to the accusations against him. Additionally, the actual bathtub that Savio drowned in will not be dragged into court, as prosecutors initially hoped to do.
In 24 days of trial, the prosecution called more than 30 witnesses, mostly providing hearsay testimony allowed in under the 2008 Illinois evidentiary law dubbed “Drew’s Law” allowing hearsay in rare circumstances.
Both the defense and prosecution also called forensic pathologists to the stand as expert witnesses to testify that Kathleen Savio’s death was respectively either an accident or the result of a struggle.
The jury heard closing arguments on September 4, 2012, and the case was submitted to the jury September 5. After two days of deliberations, the jury convicted Peterson of the murder of his third wife Kathleen Savio. Peterson faces up to 60 years in prison.
Peterson is currently in custody in Joliet, Illinois. Please see our breaking news for reports direct from the courtroom as the conclusion of this case unfolds.
Drew Peterson: Army vet and ex-cop Peterson stands accused of murdering his third wife, following a media firestorm surrounding the disappearance of his fourth wife.
Carol Brown: Peterson’s first wife and high school sweetheart who divorced him in 1980 due to his infidelity.
Victoria Connolly: Peterson’s second wife, Connolly, was married to Peterson for ten years and in media interviews has said that their marriage was characterized by abuse, both of her and her daughter. Connolly stated further that Peterson would threaten to kill her and make it look like an accident. She also called Peterson “a legend in his own mind.” Like her predecessor, she divorced Peterson after learning of his infidelity.
Kathleen Savio: Peterson’s third wife and the alleged victim in the Illinois homicide case. In the last years of her life, police were called to the Peterson home 18 times on various domestic disturbance reports.
Stacy Ann Cales: Peterson’s fourth wife, who disappeared suddenly a few days before Halloween in 2007.
Joel Brodsky, Joe “The Shark” Lopez and Steve Greenberg: Together, these are the three powerhouse lawyers who comprise Peterson’s core defense team. Brodsky has been with Peterson since the beginning, while Lopez and Greenberg are well-known Chicago lawyers who have come down to lend a little starpower to the trial. Lopez, a flamboyant lawyer known for his aggressive style, has defended Chicago mobsters and Colombian drug cartels. Greenberg is a heavyweight federal lawyer who once criticized Brodsky’s work on this case on Fox News. They are assisted by several other legal bigwigs, including Lopez’s new wife, Lisa Lopez, who was admitted to the bar in 2012.
Edward Burmila: the judge who will be hearing Peterson’s case. Burmila once ran for the State Attorney, the job currently held by the attorney prosecuting the case.
James Glasgow: Will County State’s Attorney, the prosecutor in this case.
Overwhelming Circumstantial Evidence
Drew Peterson Found Guilty
Did The Defense Botch The Case?
Pre-trial commentary: The biggest hurdle for the prosecution at trial will be proving the quality and reliability of their forensics. Since most of the physical evidence in their case relies on Savio’s exhumed body, the defense would be wise to challenge the reliability of signs of trauma on a long-dead body. Another strong defense strategy would be drawing attention to the media witch hunt aspect of the prosecution — that the media basically swooped in, hired their own experts and redid the investigation after the state of Illinois had absolved Peterson of wrongdoing in Savio’s death.
The defense has many more problems to overcome, most notably Drew’s Law, a 2008 law passed by Illinois voters in reaction to this case. Normally, hearsay testimony (statements made by someone who is not testifying under oath, think of the old telephone game from elementary school) cannot be used at trial because the person testifying does not have first hand knowledge of that fact.
However, Illinois voters thought it was important to allow statements made by missing witness Stacy Peterson into evidence in this case, so they carved out an exception to criminal jurisprudence especially for this case and others like it.
Due to Drew’s Law, lawyers on both sides of this case have been engaged in prolific litigation, arguing about which of Stacy’s statements the court will permit the jury to hear at the eventual trial, even though Stacy herself will in all likelihood not be around to speak for herself.
Since using hearsay evidence is rare for a criminal trial, the attorneys for both parties are going over their evidence with a fine-tooth comb, trying to figure out exactly what they will be able to use. Each item needs to be approved by the judge beforehand.
Recently, the judge looked at three requests. The first is to allow Stacy Peterson’s pastor to testify as to statements Stacy made to him, the second is for Kathleen Savio’s divorce lawyer to testify as to conversations with his client, and the third is to admit tape recorded interviews Peterson conducted during the media blitz surrounding Stacy’s initial disappearance.
The judge ruled that if the prosecution can lay a valid foundation, that is, show the court that the statements are relevant, complete, coherent and from a valid source of information, the prosecution may admit testimony from the divorce lawyer and the pastor.
The pastor will testify that Stacy told him she saw Peterson carrying a bag of women’s clothing the night Kathleen Savio was found dead. To back up this statement, the pastor will need to be as specific as possible and include corroborating information such as times, dates and how precisely Stacy was able to see Drew with the bag.
Savio’s divorce lawyer will testify that Savio told him she feared Peterson would kill her. He will be rigorously questioned by the judge before he takes the stand, however, as to any other comments she may have made to him and what the context of those comments was.
However, the judge found that the interviews Peterson did with various media outlets were not admissible because they are so inflammatory that they would prejudice Peterson negatively. He also will not permit the actual bathtub in which Savio allegedly drowned to be dragged into court, probably to maintain court order and keep the trial from becoming too much of a spectacle.
Because of these complex evidentiary issues, this is one case that our legal analysts are watching very closely. As the trial date fast approaches, keep checking in for the latest updates.
July 29, 2012: As the trial date approaches, the judge has reserved his ruling on a few outstanding hearsay issues. It’s possible that he is waiting for trial to begin before he rules on whether or not certain people will be permitted to testify so he does not send the case back to the Court of Appeal for months to come. After all the delay in this case, he may be making a decision based on what will move the case along most quickly. This could point to a decision he knows will be unpopular or controversial, as it will effectively lock the parties into trial no matter what his decision is. It’s tough for a trial lawyer to build his case when he does not know which evidence will come in yet, but it’s something the veteran lawyers in this case should be able to negotiate with ease — if they can set aside the inevitable bickering.
August 20, 2012: Peterson’s defense team has withdrawn their request for a mistrial. There’s only one way to interpret this: They think they have an acquittal in the bag.
Prosecutors got off to a rocky start in this trial by referring to evidence that the judge had ruled improper to bring up at trial. After a number of admonishments by the judge, the defense team asked for a mistrial. The judge declined to grant the mistrial, the prosecution went on with its case, and after a few more days of prosecution blunders, the defense decided they didn’t need a mistrial after all.
With virtually no physical evidence to go on, the prosecution is grasping at straws to prove that Peterson killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio. And although circumstantial evidence can sometimes lead to a conviction, it’s not at all a sure thing.
Judge Burmila has refused to let a number of prosecution witnesses testify, believing that the witness’ testimony would be hearsay and thus inadmissible at trial. Every time the judge dismisses a prosecution witness, the jury loses faith in the prosecution’s case.
It’s a gold mine for Peterson and his flamboyant defense team, as long as they make good use of it when it’s their turn to present their case.
August 23, 2012: As Peterson’s trial moves into its fourth week, there’s no other way to put this: it’s become a slog.
On Tuesday, defense attorney Darryl Goldberg, whose wife and parents were watching from the audience, delivered an excruciating 4-hour cross examination of a forensic pathologist. No stone was too insignificant to go unturned. No detail could be left alone. He examined every second of her testimony with razor-like precision in what I’m sure he thought was a masterful afternoon of lawyering.
The jury of course, was bored to tears. And they found themselves staying past six yet another night.
The jury is going to become a problem, and quickly, if both sides don’t wrap things up soon. School is starting again and at least one juror is due back in college soon. Parents of school-age children need to be available to pick up and drop off their children, to go to Back-to School Nights and pack lunches. None of this can happen if they are stuck in the never-ending trial.
Judge Burmila has even said that he will schedule Saturday trial dates if he needs to. Can you think of anything less appealing than serving your civic duty on THIS jury?
At this point, the jury probably hates all of the lawyers so much that they will convict anything that moves.
September 4, 2012: “It is clear that this man killed Kathleen Savio,” began the state’s attorney, Chris Koch, during today’s closing argument.
Well, Mr. Koch, you can raise your voice and point your finger all you want, but no amount of Perry Mason zeal is going to produce physical evidence against Drew Peterson.
Every time our intrepid reporter, Joseph Hosey, checks in with us at the Wild About Trial offices, he regales us with stories of the courtroom theatrics from both sides of the courtroom — and even from the judge! Closing statements in this trial are no exception.
Even better than Koch’s fierce “this man killed Kathleen Savio,” was defense attorney Joe Lopez’s comment to the jurors that each of them must have a voice whispering in his or her ear that Peterson is innocent. It’s certainly true that jurors must presume Peterson is innocent unless they find beyond a reasonable doubt that he killed Savio, but the image of Drew Peterson wearing wings and a halo and whispering to each juror “I’m innocent!” is pretty funny.
Lopez sealed the deal with this gem: “The framers of the Constitution would barf on this evidence,” referring to all the circumstantial and hearsay evidence submitted to the jury to convict Peterson.
Entertaining courtroom antics aside, it’s hard to know how the jury will decide. The fact that they have been empaneled for 25 solid days is significant, because at this point they are annoyed and looking for someone to blame. That person might be Peterson, but it may also be the prosecutors.
Either way, they will probably decide the case quickly, just because so many of them want to put this case to rest. It is hard to imagine jury deliberations stretching longer than a day, despite the quantity of evidence that was presented at trial.
Ultimately, we at WAT think that the prosecution did not prove their case. We think they showed that Peterson was a suspicious guy who said and did some stupid, and potentially incriminating, things, but we don’t think that the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Savio was killed by Peterson. But it remains to be seen what the jury will decide.
September 6, 2012: Guilty! Wow. We at Wild About Trial were split down the middle as to how this would come out, but after 14 hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Peterson of Kathleen Savio’s murder.
What a roller coaster this trial has been. Some of us felt sure that the lack of any real physical evidence would acquit Peterson, but other lawyers on the WAT staff put it this way: “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck.” Apparently the jurors agreed: Savio’s death and Peterson’s response to it were suspicious enough to convict.
It seems like the jurors were also split for a long time. At one point they asked “what does unanimous mean?” Defense lawyers commented that that question means there was going to be a hung jury. Eventually, of course, the jurors managed to agree.
It was a long, crazy trial. There was infighting between the judge and the prosecutor, a mistrial was nearly declared for prosecutorial misconduct and the defense team was as flamboyant as a television show. The jury had a tough job, not just to determine Peterson’s guilt or innocence, but to look beyond the courtroom and the media circus and focus on the cold, hard facts of the case.
Peterson is facing up to 60 years in custody and will surely spend the rest of his life in prison.