CHICAGO — A former police officer who allegedly killed his third wife — and was charged only after his fourth wife disappeared under suspicious circumstances — saw his case finally go to trial Tuesday.
Drew Peterson, a former police sergeant in the town of Bolingbrook, Illinois has spent the last three years in jail for the 2004 drowning death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, which was initially ruled to be an accident.
He is also the prime suspect — although he has never been charged — in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson.
Her disappearance fueled a media frenzy, as people across the United States became fascinated with the young, pretty, blonde mother, married to a much older, seemingly unconcerned, police officer.
The charismatic Peterson, 58, publicly commented on his missing wife’s moods and menstrual cycle, and taunted authorities, who have still never found her.
The story was even turned into a made-for-TV movie, with Hollywood star Rob Lowe in the leading role.
Defense attorney Joel Brodsky told jurors all the evidence that Peterson killed his ex-wife is circumstantial and insisted that prosecutors ignored the maladies Savio suffered which could have caused her to fall down and drown in her tub.
“In this case, you’re going to hear nothing but myth, rumor and hearsay,” he said in opening statements.
“But in court, you have a man’s life in your hands. You have to ignore the myth and focus on the facts, and when you do, you’ll find out what my client is, and that is not guilty.”
Brodsky drew the ire of Savio’s family for calling her “bonkers” and “crazy” and trying to undermine the fears she expressed before her death by insisting “she lies and makes up stories to fit her purpose.”
“It seems like they’re trying to make Drew the victim instead of Kathy,” Savio’s distraught stepmother, Marcia Savio, told reporters outside the courtroom.
“Kathy was always a strong girl and the problem is, she wasn’t strong enough,” she said.
“The only thing we can do is hope and pray and hopefully Kathleen’s going to get some justice.”
Prosecutors argued that Savio’s injuries show signs of a struggle and that the timing of her death, just weeks before she and Peterson were scheduled to go to court over divorce-related property issues, was suspicious.
State’s Attorney James Glasgow told jurors that Peterson grew increasingly violent as Savio pressed for a portion of his pension and other assets.
At one point, Peterson “snuck into the victim’s home, grabbed Savio by the throat and said, ‘Why don’t you just die? I could kill you and no one would know,'” Glasgow said.
A legacy of the intensive coverage is that jurors may already know about Stacy, her mysterious vanishing, and authorities’ suspicions Peterson killed her and disposed of the body.
However, the judge ruled jurors will hear little about Stacy in court.
Instead, testimony will focus on Savio, who was found dead in a dry bathtub on March 1, 2004.
Savio’s death was initially ruled accidental, but after Stacy disappeared, authorities reopened the case and determined it had been murder.
Peterson denies wrongdoing in both cases.