Jury Finds Drew Peterson Guilty in Death of Third Wife in Bizarre Case

In a unique trial for the Illinois judicial system, former police sergeant Drew Peterson was convicted of first degree murder in the death of his wife, although little physical evidence came before a jury and hearsay evidence was the determining factor

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A suburban Chicago jury has convicted former police sergeant Drew Peterson of first-degree murder in the death of his third wife. The five-week trial gripped headlines not only because of the bizarre circumstances surrounding the death of his estranged wife Kathleen Savio, whom he was convicted of killing, but also the subsequent disappearance of his fourth wife Stacy Ann Peterson.

The Joliet, Ill., jury of seven men and five women took a day to return the guilty verdict, despite fears among family members and others that the jury would acquit Peterson or be hung because of the lack of physical evidence. Savio’s family reportedly burst into tears when the verdict was read, while Peterson remained emotionless. After the trial, her brother Nicholas gave a tearful statement to the public. “I want to thank everybody who stood behind us on this,” he said. “The feeling of joy is bittersweet. I’ll never see my sister again…but at least she got justice.”

Savio was found dead in a bathtub in her home in 2004 about six months after her divorce from Peterson was finalized. Evidence was slim, but prosecutors say he tried to bully Savio after he was ordered to pay $15,000 to her divorce attorney. A neighbor and family friend Mary Pontarelli at trial described being brought into the house by Peterson only to discover the woman’s body.  The death had initially been ruled an accidental drowning. Indeed, defense attorneys said that Peterson could not have even been in the house because the bathroom where she died was “in perfect order.”

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At the time of Savio’s death, Peterson, a former Bollingbrook, Ill., police sergeant, had already married Stacy Ann Peterson, 23. Mysteriously, she disappeared in 2007 and has not been seen since. Although he has long been suspected in her disappearance, Peterson was never charged. But the renewed scrutiny led authorities to continue to ask questions about the circumstances of Savio’s death.

They eventually exhumed her body to examine it. Three years after her death, police ruled it a homicide and felt there was enough hearsay evidence to bring Drew Peterson to trial. However, he was not charged until 2009 because the Illinois legislature passed a law the year before that allowed hearsay evidence into trial under certain circumstances. Before that point, the trial was constantly delayed because attorneys were arguing over entering hearsay statements in court.

Judge Edward Burmilla put a limit to how much Stacy could be mentioned in the trial, but two witnesses testified that the still-missing woman gave them information that would link her husband to Savio’s death, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Peterson’s relationships with the two women were enough to inspire a movie on the Lifetime network, and even get him an appearance on CNN’s Larry King Live. He even boasted of an engagement to another woman in 2008. However, a fifth nuptial never took place because he was indicted for Savio’s murder and had bail set at $20 million.

Pam Bosco, a spokesperson for Stacy’s family said that she is hoping for justice in her case, too. “This man has to pay for Stacy,” she said. “She still has a case.” However, there has been no determination if Peterson will be charged in her disappearance.

Peterson’s sentencing date has not been set yet, but defense attorneys have there would be an appeal, calling the trial a “stacked deck against us” and saying that witnesses had many constitutional issues attached to them. “A conviction is the first step in an appeal,” said defense lawyer Joel Broadsky in front of the courthouse amid hecklers and Peterson supporters.

The conviction carries a minimum sentence of 20 years to life.

MORE: How Hearsay Evidence Could Help the Case Against Drew Peterson