JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Prosecutors in Drew Peterson’s murder trial implored jurors Tuesday to use common sense in assessing the circumstantial case against him, while the defense said the state fell far short of proving the former Illinois police officer killed his third wife.
The attorneys delivered their closing arguments to jurors who will begin deliberating Wednesday in the trial for Peterson, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Kathleen Savio’s 2004 death. The former Bolingbrook police sergeant came under scrutiny in Savio’s death only after his fourth wife disappeared.
Prosecutor Chris Koch began his closing remarks by walking up to the defense table, pointing at the 58-year-old Peterson and declaring in a booming voice, “It is clear this man killed Kathleen Savio.”
Savio’s lifeless body was found in her bathtub — her hair soaked with blood and gash on the back of her head. Prosecutors contend Peterson killed the 40-year-old aspiring nurse because he feared a pending divorce settlement would wipe him out financially. The defense contends she died in an accidental slip and fall.
As he spoke, Koch displayed a photograph of a smiling Savio, juxtaposing it with another picture of her bloated corpse jammed into her bathtub. Koch repeatedly told jurors to use common sense, telling them to consider how Peterson had threatened Savio several times and how he acted suspiciously after her death.
As he has during most of the six-week trial, Peterson looked on calmly from the defense table, occasionally taking notes or whispering something to his attorneys.
Savio’s death was initially deemed an accident; it was re-examined and ruled a homicide after the 2007 disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. Peterson is suspected but hasn’t been charged in Stacy Peterson’s disappearance, and prosecutors were barred from mentioning or hinting that that she is presumed dead and that her husband is the lone suspect in her disappearance.
Punching his fist into his palm for emphasis, Koch said Peterson broke into his estranged wife’s home — just a few blocks from Drew and Stacy Peterson’s house in Bolingbrook — in the early morning hours before March 1, 2004.
“He went into that house, pushed her down, held her down until she inhaled fluid and drowned,” said Koch.
He also cited witness testimony that Drew Peterson went to Savio’s house where her family had gathered the day after her death, then headed upstairs to wash blood from the tub.
“Are you kidding me?!” balked Koch. “What in the world is he doing there? Murderers sometimes go back to the crime scene.”
Investigators botched the initial investigation into Savio’s death and collected no fingerprints, blood, hair samples or any other physical evidence, leaving prosecutors with a circumstantial case.
Koch went through more than a dozen hearsay statements Savio allegedly made to others before she died and that Stacy Peterson made before she disappeared. Hearsay, or statements 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 allows it in rare circumstances.
Koch reminded jurors that one witness testified how Savio had described Peterson saying to her, “I’m going to kill you.” Another witness said Peterson told Savio he could kill her and make it look like an accident.
Defense attorney Joe Lopez countered in his two-hour closing that the state had presented “garbage evidence” during its five-week presentation of more than 30 witnesses.
“The framers of the Constitution would barf on this evidence,” he said. Another time, he asked, “What evidence do you have that Drew Peterson killed Savio? None. Zero.”
He said the hearsay was no more credible than water-cooler gossip they might hear around the office.
“How many times are you at work and you hear someone say something about someone — they’re lying!” he said.
Lopez told jurors that when they deliberate, they should hear a voice whispering that Peterson is innocent. Pointing to an American flag by at the judge’s bench, he said that presumption was the bedrock of the U.S. justice system.
“You have to find he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt — not maybe, not probably (he did it),” he said. “Are we going to convict someone on speculation? … This is America!”
Lopez frequently doubled back to his central argument: The state hadn’t even proven Savio’s death was a murder. He conceded statistics indicate fatal slips in bathtubs are one in a million, but that all the evidence suggests that’s just what happened to Savio.
“Are you trying to tell me no one has ever slipped in a bathtub before?” he asked. “That’s why they sell rubber mats with suction cups on them.”
But Koch told jurors it would be impossible for Savio to have received the gash on the back of her head and 14 bruises on the front of her body unless someone had attacked her.
“How can you get (all those wounds) in one fall?” he asked. “You can’t.”
He mocked the defense explanation that Savio slipped in the tiny tub, went airborne, then came crashing down on her side and the back of the head.
“If you use common sense and everyday experience, it will tell you their theories aren’t sound,” he said.
If convicted, Peterson faces a maximum 60-year prison sentence.
Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm
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