Peterson, Vaughn murder cases cost Will County nearly $600,000
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain and Janet Lundquist firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com February 15, 2013 11:22PM
TOP TEN PAYMENTS FROM SPECIAL PROSECUTION FUND
1. TrialGraphix: $94,100.35
2. Stephanie Finn Private Investigative Services: $86,974.06
3. Forensic medical consulting firm Expert Digital Solutions, $30,000
4. Bloodstain pattern analyst Paul Kish: $27,326.02
5. Firearms expert Noedel Scientific: $21,907.13
6. Computer hardware and software supplier CDW-G: $21,847.58
7. T-Mobile USA: $21,100
8. Forensic consulting firm Microtrace LLC: $18,812.50
9. St. Louis County Medical Examiner Mary Case: $17,150
10. Forensic Pathologist Michael Baden: $15,869.16
Updated: March 18, 2013 6:25AM
The bathtub where the body of Drew Peterson’s third wife was discovered became an essential piece of evidence in the former Bolingbrook police sergeant’s murder trial.
What trial watchers and Will County taxpayers may not have known was that the county had been paying $75 a month to store the bathtub in a Channahon storage locker after it was removed from the former home of victim Kathleen Savio in 2009.
The tub was never brought into court, which was the original plan. But the bathtub’s storage rental fee was one tiny piece of the county’s bulging price tag to prosecute Peterson.
That case, combined with the successful prosecution of convicted family killer Christopher Vaughn, cost taxpayers nearly $600,000, according to a Herald-News analysis of the expenses paid out of the county’s special prosecution fund. Vaughn, of Oswego, was ultimately convicted of killing his wife and three children in Channahon Township in 2007.
The trials nicked the budgets of other county agencies, too. The Will County Sheriff’s Department paid its staff working on the Peterson trial $10,510 in overtime alone.
The Will County Jury Commission declined to release its trial-related expenses, such as how much was paid for juror lunches and other accommodations. Court Administrator Kurt Sangmeister denied the newspaper’s requests for expense documents related to the trials, citing a provision in the state’s open records law that exempts the courts and judiciary.
Nevertheless, the state’s attorney’s office has binders full of receipts showing how every dollar was spent, right down to the $10.71 for an almond Danish, doughnut fritter and a long john purchased in December 2009 from Fleckenstein’s Bakery in Mokena for witness interviews.
The county bought laptops, printers, monitors, flash drives, air cards, software, frames, easels, postage, meals, hotels rooms, airfare and train tickets with the money.
Costs not surprising
Given that two high-profile murder cases were being investigated and tried at about the same time, the price tag seems about right, said Leonard Cavise, a law professor at the DePaul College of Law. The cost of criminal prosecutions is rising in general, Cavise said.
“Experts rates are going up incrementally. Salaries of people on the staff are going up. The cost of investigation and the cost of doing DNA searches, also the cost of going out in the community and trying to find information,” he said.
The year 2007 was unprecedented in Will County history as far as mayhem and mystery goes.
In May, Plainfield mom Lisa Stebic disappeared, and an investigation ensued. In June, Christopher Vaughn’s family was slaughtered. In October, Drew Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared, which eventually led authorities to re-open Savio’s death investigation.
In February 2008, five women were gunned down in a robbery at a Lane Bryant store in the Will County portion of Tinley Park.
Meanwhile, authorities were still investigating the murder of 3-year-old Riley Fox in Wilmington. That case has since been solved — convicted sex offender Scott Eby was charged with her murder and is serving a life sentence in prison after pleading guilty in 2010.
After Peterson’s arrest in 2009, prosecutors took a good look at their budget and decided they were going to need more money to see that case and Vaughn’s case through trials.
Paying the bill
Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Ken Grey met with representatives of the county board and county executive’s office, the units of government that control the cash, to work out a plan.
A special prosecution fund was created in December 2009, just in time to pay the first $20,000 bill from consulting firm TrialGraphix. A total of $94,100 was paid to TrialGraphix to modernize the state’s attorney’s office’s ability to present evidence in court.
But the miniscule $173 spent on a last-minute expedited passport for Vaughn witness Steve Willott in Canada may have been just as important. Without the passport, which Willott had lost, he couldn’t have come to the United States to testify.
The passport was obtained on Aug. 29. On Aug. 30, he was flying from Canada to Chicago for a cost of $2,663.
“We had to have him down here,” Grey said, adding that Willott was a key witness.
And on Aug. 31, Willott, who Vaughn had befriended online, testified in a Will County courtroom that Vaughn seemed to be planning a permanent disappearance into the wilds of Canada — without his wife and children.
Big trial tab expected
Still, the more complex a case is, the more it will cost. The fact that a trial has a high media profile, like Peterson’s and Vaughn’s did, doesn’t change the amount of money spent, Grey said.
The Peterson murder case was cold — Savio died in 2004. It required things such as an exhumation and second autopsy on Savio’s body and a 2010 hearing into the use of hearsay evidence, which was like a second trial in itself.
Trials are also fluid, and the plan can change day to day. Many of the more than 60 witnesses for the Peterson trial had to be rescheduled and recalled on different days, which led to expensive last-minute travel and accommodations on the public’s dime.
Numerous books were purchased for the trials, too.
One book, “From Crime Scene to Courtroom,” was bought because its author Cyril Wecht, a defense expert in the Peterson case, included photos of the Savio murder crime scene. Prosecutors wanted to know if the photos were obtained in some way other than normal trial discovery methods.
The book cost only $27. But other expenditures were much higher. Microtrace LLC in Elgin charged $18,812 to search evidence and analyze fibers in the Peterson case.
The county also needed top-flight medical experts, who didn’t come cheap, Grey said.
For instance, Paul Erwin Kish, an internationally known forensic consultant and bloodstain pattern expert based in Corning, N.Y., charged $250 an hour for his work; the county paid him a total of $27,326.
Other experts were easier on the budget. Andrea Zaferes, an aquatic death and accident investigator, charged the county only $75 an hour for reading case files on bathtub-related deaths. But she also threw in some work for free.
Hit or miss
Some of the money was spent in vain.
It cost the county $2,396 to fly Scott Rossetto to Chicago from Frankfurt, Germany in August. Rossetto, a friend of Peterson’s missing fourth wife, Stacy, was to provide crucial testimony — that Stacy told him she was to provide Peterson an alibi for the night Savio died.
But Judge Edward Burmila blocked his testimony after defense attorneys convinced him that discrepancies in the date and location of the U.S. Army captain’s conversation with Stacy made his testimony unreliable.
Some behind-the-scenes people were paid for services, but they never appeared in court. Private investigator Stephanie Finn of New Lenox, for instance, was paid $86,974 for her work on the Peterson case.
After the Peterson and Vaughn trials ended with guilty verdicts, Grey said he has reviewed the expenses for both. Every penny spent was integral to the cases, he said.
Investigators are still pursuing leads in the Tinley Park Lane Bryant case, Stebic’s disappearance, and the 1990 disappearance of former Will County Deputy Robin Abrams, among other cases.
There is now $25,000 in the special prosecution fund, Grey said. And while it may not be needed in the foreseeable future, one of the investigations may break open and lead to another costly trial.
WILL COUNTY’S TOP CASES