The People v. Drew Peterson
Updated: October 12, 2012 7:36AM
This isn’t about Stacy.
The pretty young wife of a Bolingbrook cop and mother of two disappeared without a trace almost five years ago. Had she not, the world might have never learned the name Drew Peterson.
There would have been no whispers about a dry bathtub. Geraldo Rivera might never have come to town. Rob Lowe probably wouldn’t have donned a Bolingbrook Police uniform for Lifetime TV movie. And Peterson might have kept his.
Stacy Peterson is presumed dead. And if that’s true, her family deserves justice. But the trial about to begin in Joliet is not about her. It’s about the death of Kathleen Savio — the 40-year-old woman authorities first said accidentally slipped, fell and drowned in her bathtub three years before Stacy vanished. She was Peterson’s third wife, the woman he left to make Stacy his fourth bride.
And she’s the woman who threatened to take away a large chunk of his pension during their bitter soap opera of a divorce.
Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow and a team of prosecutors he leads will point partly to that pension as the motive when they begin to lay out the evidence they think will prove Peterson guilty of Savio’s murder in a trial that starts with jury selection Monday.
They’ll do battle against a team of high-profile defense lawyers who will first force Glasgow to prove someone — anyone — killed Savio. Then they’ll challenge prosecutors to put Peterson at the scene of the alleged crime and prove he did it. They say prosecutors will fail on each count.
“All they say is, ‘Hey, they were getting divorced, she’s dead, he must have done it,’ ” Peterson lawyer Steven Greenberg has said.
Glasgow and his team have been tight-lipped about the evidence. That’s about to end.
Now it’s time for the world to finally hear the case against Drew Peterson.
The death of Kathleen Savio
Savio was found dead in her dry bathtub on March 1, 2004.
Bolingbrook Sgt. Drew Peterson, Savio’s ex-husband, tried to return the couple’s children to her home on Pheasant Chase Drive that day. When no one answered the door, Peterson called a locksmith and asked a neighbor to check inside.
Savio was dead in her bathtub. Her hair was wet, her fingertips pruned, but the tub was dry. Prosecutors think the water drained from the tub through a leaky seal while she lay there dead.
Her body was autopsied the next day, and Will County Coroner Patrick O’Neil said he saw no sign of foul play. Officials found neither alcohol nor drugs in her system. There was blood in the bathtub — and a wound on Savio’s scalp — but an Illinois State Police investigator said he still didn’t consider her death a homicide. That scalp injury wasn’t life-threatening, authorities said at the time. But it could have knocked her out. They decided she slipped and fell.
“This is being treated as a tragedy in [Peterson’s] family,” Bolingbrook Police Sgt. Tom Ross said in March 2004.
Cynics think Peterson felt otherwise. His romance with Savio began in the early 1990s. The Romeo swept her off her feet with surprises like a Valentine’s Day trip to Jamaica. But five years into the marriage, Savio started getting anonymous letters. They said her husband was cheating.
Savio sought an order of protection in 2002 and claimed Peterson threatened to kill her. Family members later said he had beat Savio when she confronted him about his dalliances.
“He just doesn’t care if he live[s] or die[s] or I live or die,” Savio wrote in March 2002.
So the divorce began. Savio had learned her husband was having an affair with a teenager named Stacy.
Life went on for Peterson. He married Stacy in 2003, after Stacy got pregnant. The couple moved to a house down the street from the one Peterson shared with Savio. Stacy seemed happy. But Drew’s fourth marriage soured just like his third had. And one Sunday, Stacy allegedly left to help paint a house. No one ever saw her again.
Stacy’s family reported her missing the next day. Suddenly, Peterson had one dead wife, another missing wife and unwanted attention from reporters and prosecutors.
Savio’s body was exhumed and autopsied again. A renowned forensic pathologist declared her death a homicide on Fox News. An official confirmation followed three months later.
The Rev. Neil Schori, Stacy’s pastor, started talking about an incriminating conversation he had with Stacy. She told him Peterson admitted to hitting Savio on the back of her head and making her death look like an accident, he said.
Stacy also purportedly told her pastor she woke one night to find Peterson “standing in front of the washing machine, dressed all in black, and holding a bag.” He allegedly removed his clothes, put them in the washer and emptied the bag, which appeared filled with women’s clothing, into the washer.
Meanwhile, a divorce attorney who represented Peterson’s third wife said Stacy once asked if she could blackmail Drew. “She asked, ‘Could we get more money out of Drew if we threatened to tell the police he killed Kathy?’ ” Harry Smith testified in 2010.
He also has testified that Savio talked to him repeatedly about her fear that Peterson would kill her.
“Kathy wanted me to make sure that her death, if unresolved, did not go without repercussions for Drew,” Smith said.
Peterson said Stacy had a crush on her pastor. And his attorneys accused Smith of “gold-digging” and speaking up only after Stacy’s disappearance became national news.
Still, State Police heard enough to arrest Peterson on May 7, 2009, in the murder of Savio.
Getting ready for the trial
Three years later, Peterson’s trial had yet to begin. He fought to keep “hearsay” evidence — testimony from the likes of Schori and Smith about conversations they had with Savio and Stacy — out of the trial. An Illinois appellate court finally ruled against him in April, and the trial has been fast-tracked ever since.
The case went to Will County Judge Edward Burmila, a former Will County State’s Attorney, in May. He has spent nearly three months working with lawyers and setting ground rules. For example, jurors may hear Schori’s testimony, but only after prosecutors prove it’s relevant. TV interviews Peterson granted to well-known reporters are out — but most of the transcripts are in.
Savio’s bathtub, removed and stored by prosecutors who call it the “murder weapon,” may not be seen by jurors either.
A pool of potential jurors has been under strict orders — from a judge who since retired — for three years not to research the case against Drew Peterson. When Peterson’s face popped up on the news, they were supposed to look away. That Lifetime movie in January was off-limits.
Peterson’s lawyers concede one must be living under a rock not to know the prologue. But Burmila had one more order for prosecutors this spring as they got ready to question witnesses. He knows the name of Peterson’s fourth wife will come up at the trial. When it does, he said, they can’t let it slip that Stacy might be dead, too.