Murder or accident? Jury finally to hear the evidence in death of Peterson’s third wife
BY DAN ROZEK Staff Reporter | email@example.com July 20, 2012 4:42PM
10-30-2007 Copy photo of a Savio-Peterson family photo. Kathleen Savio (Peterson) is in the checkered outfit in the front row, third woman from the left. Drew Peterson is the third man from the left in the back row of men. Photo courtesy of the family
Updated: October 12, 2012 7:36AM
Drew Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, was found dead in her bathtub on March 1, 2004, while she was involved in a bitter battle with her ex-husband over their financial assets after their divorce.
Her death initially was ruled an accidental drowning, but authorities opened a new investigation and exhumed her body in 2007, after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, vanished.
This time, authorities classified Savio’s death as a homicide. Drew Peterson was arrested on May 7, 2009, and charged with murdering his 40-year-old former wife.
Though Savio’s body was found in a dry bathtub, authorities concluded she had drowned before the water emptied through a leaky drain. But bruises and an inch-long cut found on Savio’s head couldn’t have been caused by a fall in the bathtub, indicating instead that she had struggled with an attacker, prosecutors contend, though Judge Edward Burmila so far has balked at allowing them to bring the bathtub into the courtroom to show jurors who will hear the case.
Defense attorneys said Savio died in a simple slip-and-fall accident while bathing alone in her home while Peterson had custody of their two children for the weekend.
Drew Peterson was determined to keep Savio from getting as much as half of his $72,000 annual police pension, prosecutors contend. Peterson, who retired in 2007 after 29 years as a police officer, also feared he would lose the family’s Bolingbrook home to Savio in the divorce settlement, prosecutors have argued.
Peterson, who already had been through divorce proceedings twice before, was willing to fight Savio in court over the former couple’s finances, defense attorneys have said, dismissing the divorce as a possible reason for Peterson to kill his ex-wife.
“It’s an easy copout,” defense attorney Steve Greenberg said. “It’s just wishful thinking because they can’t accept it was an accident.”
Prosecutors’ circumstantial case against Peterson rests largely on hearsay statements that Savio and Stacy Peterson reportedly made to other people about threats and actions Drew Peterson took against them.
Several statements from Savio seem certain to be used as evidence, including her handwritten account to Bolingbrook Police of a July 2002 clash with Peterson in which he allegedly threatened her, as well as statements she made to her sister and to a friend that Peterson warned he could kill her but make her death look like an accident.
Another crucial piece of evidence prosecutors likely will use is a purported statement by Stacy Peterson, in which she told her minister that Peterson ordered her to provide him an alibi by telling police he was home with her on the night Savio died. The Rev. Neil Schori also testified that Stacy Peterson described how she saw her husband return to their home late that night, dressed all in black.
But other statements allegedly made by Savio and Peterson that seemingly bolster those claims still might be barred from the trial by Burmila if he deems their reliability to be suspect.
Those include Stacy Peterson allegedly telling friend Scott Russetto a similar account of being ordered to lie by Drew Peterson that he was home the night Savio died, and a purported account she made to a co-worker and to another friend of being threatened by a knife-wielding Peterson inside her home.
Defense attorneys have long dismissed all the statements as unreliable or concocted by people who hate Peterson.
Crucial witnesses are expected to be Schori, a clergyman who counseled Stacy and Drew about their marriage, as well as Anna Doman, Savio’s sister, who allegedly talked with her about being threatened by Peterson.
Dr. Michael Baden, a celebrity pathologist and Fox News consultant who conducted an autopsy of Savio, then announced she had been murdered, is expected to be one of several experts to testify Savio couldn’t have accidentally died in the bathtub.
Defense attorneys also will call pathologists to rebut that testimony, and may call one or both of Savio’s teenaged children with Peterson, who were with their father on the weekend Savio died.