Click HERE to watch a special CrimeLine show discussing the Drew Peterson verdict. Jon Leiberman, Chicago attorney Karen Conti and I discuss how and why jurors found Drew guilty of first degree murder in the death of Kathleen Savio. Jurors took just 13 hours and 52 minutes to deliberate, and while a question today asking the definition of unanimous had some thinking there would be a hung jury, the jury was UNANIMOUS in finding Drew guilty. Defense attorney Joe Lopez was smiling earlier today when he heard that question, saying he’s only heard it three times, and all three times jurors returned a not guilty verdict. Yet, Lopez had to wipe that smile off his face as the verdict was read and he found out his client is now facing up to 60 years behind bars.
So why, in a case with no physical evidence, were jurors able to come to the conclusion Drew was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? Even I predicted before the trial began that prosecutors would be unable to meet that burden. However, the elephant in the room, Drew’s missing fourth wife Stacy, ended up being the key to the verdict. Stacy was essentially able to testify that she knew Drew did it through hearsay witnesses Rev. Neil Schori and Savio’s divorce attorney Harry Smith. The prosecution put Schori on the stand to tell jurors before she disappeared Stacy told him that the night Savio died, Drew came home with women’s clothes that weren’t hers and later spent hours coaching her on what to tell police. In an attempt to try to paint Stacy as a liar, the defense called Smith back to the stand to tell jurors Stacy had called him and asked that if she told cops Drew killed Savio, could she get more money from him in a divorce? The defense had hoped jurors would believe Stacy was trying to extort money from Drew and made everything up, but it had the exact OPPOSITE effect. It only further solidified in jurors’ minds that Stacy knew Drew did it.
When the jurors submitted questions it was on only those two testimonies alone, not the testimonies of the dueling pathologists, not the initial investigators, just to have the transcripts of Harry Smith and Neil Schori read back to them. Joel Brodsky and the rest of the defense team have only themselves to blame for this outcome. All they had to do was get up there and say, what if it was an accident? All they had to do was create a small amount of doubt so the burden of proof couldn’t be met. Yet, their thoughtless tactic only exaggerated the effect Stacy had on the case.
Still, I think this case will drag out as the defense has several grounds from appeal. One, prosecutors several times ignored orders by the judge to not ask witnesses certain questions, forcing the judge to tell jurors to disregard certain testimony. Second, this was a jury picked from a three-year-old jury pool, who were told back in 2009 don’t follow this case in the media. There is a case to be made they were prejudice. Also, Drew could be charged with murdering Stacy, though that would be very difficult given there’s no body. In the end, while many people may be happy with the verdict and that Savio’s family has some measure of justice and closure, remember there are now four children, Savio’s two sons and Stacy’s son and daughter who are without both their mother and father. It is the four of them I think about most in this moment.