JOLIET, Ill. – Drew Peterson – the crass former Illinois police officer who gained notoriety after his much-younger wife vanished in 2007 – was convicted Thursday of murdering a previous wife in a potentially precedent-setting case centered on secondhand hearsay statements.
Peterson, 58, sat stoically looking straight ahead and did not react as the judge announced jurors had found him guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
Illinois has no death penalty, and Peterson now faces a maximum 60-year prison term when sentenced Nov. 26.
The trial was the first of its kind in Illinois history, with prosecutors building their case largely on hearsay thanks to a new law, dubbed “Drew’s Law,” tailored to Peterson’s case. That hearsay, prosecutors had said, would let his third and fourth wives “speak from their graves” through family and friends to convict Peterson.
Hearsay is any information reported by a witness that is not based on the witness’s direct knowledge. Defense attorneys said its use at the trial would be central to their appeal.
According to juror Ron Supalo, it was the volume of witnesses testifying against Peterson that prompted him to cast a vote to convict him.
“I think I counted at least 10 of them with the hearsay and then the circumstantial evidence,” he said.
Peterson’s personality loomed large over the trial.
Before his 2009 arrest, the glib, cocky Peterson seemed to taunt authorities, joking on talk shows and even suggested a “Win a Date With Drew Contest,” a suggestion he modified after his arrest when he phoned a radio show from jail suggesting a “Win a Conjugal Visit With Drew Contest.”
“The whole world has been waiting for Drew Peterson to be convicted. They hate him,” said defense attorney Joe Lopez.
Supalo said he had little difficulty deciding that Savio’s death was a homicide and not an accident as Peterson’s attorneys contended.
“The fact that some of the injuries were on the front, some of them were on the back,” he said. “You would have had to have two accidents, essentially, and that was hard to believe.”
The case began with a gruesome discovery.
A neighbor came across Savio’s body on March 1, 2004. She was face down in her dry bathtub, her thick, black hair soaked in blood and 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, vanished in 2007, Savio’s body was exhumed, re-examined and her death reclassified as a homicide.