Controversial Illinois Hearsay Law Played Crucial Role in Drew Peterson Conviction for Murdering Wife

One of the most publicized murder trials within the past few years finally reached its conclusion when a jury found Drew Peterson guilty of killing his former wife, Kathleen Savio. Drew Peterson is also suspected of killing his current wife, Stacy Peterson, who was reported missing in 2007. During the media storm surrounding this case, Illinois legislators enacted a hearsay law that is arguably considered a violation of the Sixth Amendment. The hearsay law, commonly referred to as Drew’s Law, allowed comments to be presented during the murder trial that led to Peterson’s conviction.

Drew Peterson, a retired police sergeant, has been a prominent figure in the national press after his wife Stacy Peterson was declared missing on October 29, 2007. As reporters started to investigate the disappearance of Stacy Peterson they also discovered that Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, was found dead in a bathtub on March 1, 2004.

Mysterious circumstances surrounded Savio’s death. Savio’s hair was wet when her body was found but the bathtub was empty. Savio also had a gash on the back of her head and blood was found in the bathtub. Drew Peterson was suspected of killing Savio but tried to make her death appear like an accident.

Drew Peterson began having an affair with Stacy while he was still married to Kathleen Savio. Drew Peterson filed for divorce from Savio in 2001. Their relationship remained contentious for years as they fought over the division of assets. Savio wrote a letter to the prosecutor in Will County, Illinois stating that Drew abused her and she feared for her life. Savio was expected to receive a portion of Peterson’s pension and other forms of financial support in the divorce but she died before the court made its ruling.

Initially, the coroner’s report stated that Savio’s death was an accidental drowning. After Stacy Peterson’s disappearance, Savio’s body was exhumed so that the medical examiner could examine the body again. Upon further examination, the cause of Savio’s death was changed to homicide and the case was reopened.

When police started investigating Stacy Peterson’s disappearance, Drew stated that Stacy left him for another man. Law enforcement searched Drew Peterson’s home trying to find clues that could help them locate Stacy Peterson. Stacy Peterson still has not been found since her disappearance in October 2007.

Due to a lack of tangible evidence regarding the murder of Savio, prosecutor James Glasgow relied heavily on hearsay statements Stacy Peterson and Kathleen Savio made to third parties. Since Savio was dead and Stacy Peterson was missing, they could not testify and Drew Peterson’s attorney could not confront them on the witness stand. Under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a defendant has the right to confront or challenge the credibility of the person making statements in a trial.

In 2008, the state of Illinois enacted legislation known as Drew’s Law that allows prosecutors to present statements in a trial made by an unavailable witness if it can be proven that the (1) defendant or adverse party murdered the witness; (2) the statements are reliable; and (3) the interests of justice are best served by admitting the statements.

During the murder trial, Reverend Neil Schori, Stacy Peterson’s pastor, provided some of the most critical statements. Stacy Peterson told Rev. Schori that she woke up in the middle of the night when Savio was killed and Drew Peterson was not in bed. In the early morning hours Stacy saw Drew remove his clothing and the contents of a bag into a washing machine. Stacy also informed Rev. Schori that Drew told her he killed Savio and Drew taught Stacy how to lie to the police if they started asking questions about Savio’s death.

Testimony provided by Harry Smith, Kathleen Savio’s former divorce lawyer, was also damaging to Drew Peterson’s case. Harry Smith stated that Stacy Peterson told him she wanted to divorce Drew. Stacy wanted to know if Drew’s murder of Kathleen Savio could be used as leverage in the divorce proceedings.

According to Joel Brodsky, Peterson’s criminal defense lawyer, they plan on appealing the first degree murder conviction. In the subsequent appeal, Peterson’s lawyer will likely challenge the admissibility of the statements Stacy Peterson and Kathleen Savio allegedly made. Jurors admitted that if they weren’t permitted to hear statements made by the wives they likely would have found Drew Peterson not guilty.

Drew Peterson could be sentenced to 60 years in prison for the murder of Kathleen Savio. Sentencing is scheduled for November 26, 2012.