Top Illinois court affirms ex-police sergeant Drew Peterson’s murder conviction in hearsay challenge


Drew Peterson/

The Illinois Supreme Court has upheld use of hearsay–including statements by a missing fourth wife–that helped convict former Chicago-area police sergeant Drew Peterson for the murder of his third wife.

The decision upheld Peterson’s 2012 murder conviction in the 2004 death of third wife Kathleen Savio, who was found dead in a dry bathtub. Police reopened the case after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, went missing in 2007. The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times covered the decision (PDF).

Peterson asserted that the ban on hearsay should have prevented admission of Savio’s statements to police about an incident where he pinned her to the stairs for three hours and threatened her with a knife, as well as her statements to family members that Peterson had threatened to kill her and make it look like an accident. He also challenged Stacy Peterson’s statements about his suspicious conduct on the night of Savio’s death.

The court said the hearsay statements were allowed under the common law doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing, which allows introduction of an absent witness’s statements when the defendant’s conduct prevented the witness from testifying. The doctrine was incorporated in Illinois evidence rules.

Peterson also contended his lawyer provided ineffective assistance by calling divorce lawyer Harry Smith as a witness, and Smith’s testimony should have been barred by attorney-client privilege.

Smith testified that, before her disappearance, Stacy Peterson asked whether she could get more money out of her husband in a divorce if she threatened to say he had killed his third wife.

Peterson’s statements were made to Smith after he said he could not represent her and were not protected by attorney-client privilege, the court said. The court also found that the defense decision to call Smith to testify was not outside the realm of trial strategy.

Drew Peterson was sentenced to 38 years after being convicted in 2012. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to an additional 40 years in 2016 for soliciting the murder of the prosecutor in the case.

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