JOLIET, Ill., Sept. 6 (UPI) -- A jury Thursday convicted a former suburban Chicago police sergeant of killing his third wife and staging her death to look like an accident.
The Will County, Ill., jury of seven men and five women deliberated nearly 14 hours over two days following a monthlong trial before convicting Drew Peterson of first-degree murder in the death Kathleen Savio, whose body was found in a dry bathtub in 2004.
Savio's death initially was ruled accidental and prosecutors had no forensic evidence. The case was reopened after the disappearance of Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, and Savio's body was exhumed for further examination.
Much of the prosecution's case depended on hearsay statements from Savio and Stacy Peterson that in the past would have been prohibited from introduction. The Illinois Legislature passed a special law, dubbed "Drew's Law," opening the way for such evidence.
Perhaps the most devastating statements came from divorce attorney Harry Smith, who testified Stacy Peterson asked him if she could get more money in a divorce settlement by threatening to tell investigators she knew how her husband had killed Savio. The defense called Smith in an attempt to prove Stacy Peterson was a schemer.
Peterson glared at the jury as the verdict was delivered, WLS-TV, Chicago, reported. Savio's family sat holding hands as they waited for the verdict to be read.
Outside the courthouse, Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said the case transcends the justice system and makes a statement about violence against women. Glasgow called Peterson "a coward and a bully."
When the case was reopened, "it was obvious to me it wasn't an accident," Glasgow said, noting he suffered severe criticism for championing the hearsay law.
"This man murdered her because he was bigger than her," Glasgow said, calling Peterson a "thug."
"We took him on and he lost."
Glasgow said autopsies performed during the re-examination of the death showed Savio "was violently drowned by another person and all the evidence points to this defendant. ... This defendant brutally killed Kathleen Savio."
Defense attorney Joel Brodsky said the verdict would be appealed, calling it just one step in the process. He said there were constitutional issues attached to every witness and every ruling.
"Hearsay was allowed in unprecedented amounts," he said. "When somebody's unpopular and going through a divorce and people are manufacturing statements -- then those statements are disguised as evidence, [it's unfair]. ... If there wasn't hearsay, there never would have been a prosecution."
Co-counsel Joe Lopez said the deck was stacked against Peterson. He called the use of such extensive hearsay evidence a "dangerous precedent."
Savio's half-brother, Nicholas, said the verdict means his sister "got justice." He read a prepared statement describing the verdict as "payback."
Stepmother Marcia Savio called prosecutors "fantastic."
The family criticized defense attorneys for their conduct during the trial, accusing them of treating Kathleen Savio's death as a joke.
"We also know all the young women in his [Peterson's] demographics will be safe. He can't touch them anymore," Marcia Savio said.
Savio's sister, Susan Doman, lashed out at the defense attorneys.
"They tried to put my sister down, put my family down but it didn't work," she said, adding she wants to see justice for Stacy Peterson.
Stacy Peterson's sister, Cassandra Cales, said it was a "good feeling to see him [Peterson] lose his freedom. There's a lot more he's going to lose. ... Game over."
Cales said the search for her sister continues and called the guilty verdict "a first step."
"Drew's put away. Maybe someone will come forward," said Cales, who added she'd never give up hope her sister will be found.
Jurors declined to meet with reporters but issued a statement saying they had viewed their responsibility with "a great deal of solemnity and diligence."
"We have reached a decision we believe is just," the jury said in a statement read by Ken Kaupas, deputy chief in the Will County sheriff's department.