By Steve Schmadeke, Stacy St. Clair and Matt Walberg
CHICAGO (Chicago Tribune) — Retired Bolingbrook, Ill., police officer Drew Peterson was found guilty Thursday of murdering his third wife, Kathleen Savio, the verdict eliciting a gasp from a packed Will County courthouse and ending a case that for years has received salacious tabloid news coverage.
A crowd of about 75 people awaiting the news outside the courthouse started buzzing as word spread. One person shouted, “Guilty!” and cheers erupted.
Savio’s family and supporters hugged and cried along with witnesses who testified for the state.
“I knew it,” said Savio’s brother-in-law Mitch Doman. “Now I can go out there and say he’s a murdering bastard. You can print that. You can put it in a headline.”
Mary Parks, the Joliet Junior College classmate of Savio who testified at trial, came out of courtroom beaming.
“I just knew,” she said. “I didn’t doubt it. I just knew it would be this way. It was beautiful.”
The verdict came after five weeks of testimony at the courthouse in Joliet, where prosecutors tried to show circumstantial and hearsay evidence proved Drew Peterson was guilty of killing Savio. The defense team attempted to poke holes in the prosecution case and said Savio’s death wasn’t a murder at all, but a slip-and-fall accident.
Peterson’s attorneys pointed to the lack of physical evidence, the inability by prosecutors to place Peterson at the scene, and conflicting opinions from forensic pathologists about how Savio, 40, died.
Savio was found drowned on March 1, 2004, in her dry Bolingbrook bathtub, and her death was ruled an accident. But three years later, when Peterson’s 23-year-old fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared, Savio’s body was exhumed and her death was ruled a homicide.
Stacy’s disappearance triggered intense national media coverage with reporters camped in front of Peterson’s home for weeks on end. At the same time, Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, did interviews on national TV proclaiming his innocence. The case eventually became a made-for-TV movie starring Rob Lowe as Peterson.
Peterson, 58, was charged with Savio’s murder in 2009. His case was delayed for years while attorneys fought in court to introduce hearsay statements, many of which were eventually allowed at trial.
Savio’s friends and family testified that Peterson had threatened and attacked Savio, who was afraid for her life.
Defense attorneys tried to suggest such hearsay could not be trusted and some witnesses were either mistaken or lying and trying to capitalize on the publicity of the case.
While Judge Edward Burmila limited what could be said about Stacy Peterson during the trial, two witnesses testified that she told them information linking Drew Peterson to Savio’s death.
The Rev. Neil Schori said Stacy told him that Peterson came home late one night dressed in black with a bag of women’s clothing that wasn’t Stacy’s. Savio’s divorce attorney Harry Smith said Stacy called him to ask whether she could use information about Peterson’s alleged involvement in Savio’s death to get more money in a divorce.
Stacy Peterson disappeared a few days after that conversation with Smith, in October 2007. Her husband remains the only suspect in her disappearance. He has not been charged.