Retired Bolingbrook 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.
Peterson showed no emotion as the verdict was read. He was shackled, said "Good job" to his attorneys and was led off. Sentencing has been set for Nov. 26. 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."
Nick Savio, Kathleen Savio's brother, choked up outside the courthouse as he called the verdict "bittersweet."
"It's better than a White Sox World Series win," he said, his face quivering with emotion. "This has been a very long time coming."
He read a brief statement from the Savio family saying Kathleen can "now rest in peace."
"We all love her and will never forget her," Nick Savio said. The family said they planned to visit Kathleen's grave Thursday and tell her the news.
Asked what he would say to Drew Peterson if he could speak to him, Nick Savio said he would tell him to "go have a cigar with your defense team...in jail."
"I don't see you laughing now," he said.
The jury left the courthouse without speaking to the media. Ken Kaupas, deputy chief of the Will County Sheriff's Department, read a statement from the jurors: "We have taken the responsibility bestowed upon us with much solemnity and diligence...after much deliberation we have reached a decision that we believe is just."
Contacted at their homes, several jurors declined to speak . One juror said: "It was a tough decision. We had to do what we had to do but I think it was just."Asked about Peterson, the juror said: "He's a good father and he had good defense attorneys, but I think the decision speaks for itself."Peterson's defense team spoke to reporters outside the courtroom and said the conviction would be appealed.
The verdict came after five weeks of testimony at the courthouse in Joliet, where prosecutors tried to show circumstantial and hearsay evidence proved Peterson was guilty of killing Kathleen 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 Peterson, disappeared, Savio's body was exhumed and her death was ruled a homicide.
Defense attorney Ralph Meczyk said he believes the defense raised reasonable doubt in the case. He said Peterson was sad, but didn't say much after the guilty verdict was read.
Outside the courthouse, defense attorneys Joel Brodsky and Joe Lopez waved at the crowd and said: "We'll be back."
As they walked away the crowd began jeering them, singing "Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye "
Earlier, a crowd of about 75 people outside the courthouse started buzzing as word of the verdict spread. One person shouted, "Guilty!" and cheers erupted.
The scene remained raucous as cars and trucks driving by honked horns and people began singing a song called "Drew the Lady Killer," to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon."
Mary Parks, the Joliet Junior College classmate of Savio who testified at trial, came out of the courtroom beaming.
"I just knew," she said. "I didn't doubt it. I just knew it would be this way. It was beautiful."In Peterson's Bolingbrook neighborhood, TV vans lined the street in front of his home. Peterson's oldest son, Stephen, declined interview requests and declined to comment when reached by phone.The refusal left the assembled camera crews to train their lenses on front of the house, tracking the silhouettes of those inside.Stephen Peterson has raised his four younger step-siblings, his father's two sons with Kathleen Savio and a son and daughter born to Stacy Peterson who were toddlers when she disappeared in 2007.A statement posted on the Facebook page of Tom Peterson, another of Drew Peterson's sons, said: "To say the least...I'm extremely disappointed. During the past 5 years...I got to see full grown adults act like children, and now they are parading around my front door. Who do I have left? Who do my siblings have left?"The Peterson saga has been a long and well-publicized one. 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, gave interviews on national TV proclaiming his innocence. The case eventually became a made-for-TV movie starring Rob Lowe as Peterson.
Stacy's family spokeswoman Pam Bosco said after today's verdict that she believes it was Stacy's words that convicted Peterson. Now, Bosco said, she hopes Drew is charged with Stacy's murder: "This man has to pay for Stacy."
State's Attorney James Glasgow said he has not ruled out charging Peterson with Stacy Peterson's death. "The longer someone is missing, the easier it is to prove they're dead," he said.
Glasgow called today's verdict "a very sobering moment" and said it makes a statement about violence against women. He called Peterson "a coward and a bully."
Glasgow thanked the jury and thanked Savio's family members, who he said "were with us through the entire matter." He also thanked the Illinois State Police for reconstructing the case.
Glasgow also said he will present evidence about Stacy's disappearance at Peterson's sentencing to get the stiffest penalty possible.
Glasgow said he was on the phone praying with the Rev. Neil Schori, Stacy's pastor, shortly before the verdict came in. Schori provided key prosecution testimony during the trial, saying that Stacy told him Peterson came home late one night wearing all black and carrying a bag of women's clothing that were not hers.
Prosecutors say that was around the time Savio was killed.
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.
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 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 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.Copyright © 2015, RedEye