A jury convicted Drew Peterson of murdering his third wife Thursday, ending a five-year legal saga as confusing as it is complicated and cold-blooded.
Peterson, 58, faces a 60-year sentence. Illinois has no death penalty.
The prosecution built its case against Peterson, who the jury decided murdered his third wife, almost exclusively on circumstantial and hearsay evidence.
That hearsay included testimony about what Peterson’s wives had told friends and acquaintances before the one died and the fourth wife disappeared.
The verdict was a vindication for Will County prosecutors, who gambled by putting on an arguably shaky case and then committed numerous stumbles.
Over the course of the investigation and prosecution, Peterson seemed to taunt authorities, joking on talk shows and appearing completely remorseless.
The case, which even sparked a TV movie starring Parks & Rec‘s Rob Lowe, began when a neighbor found Kathleen Savio’s dead body on March 1, 2004.
The drowning death of the 40-year-old aspiring nurse was initially deemed an accident caused by a freak slip in the tub, but that theory soon evaporated.
After Peterson’s fourth wife, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson, went missing in 2007, Savio’s body was exhumed, re-examined and re-classified as a homicide.
Peterson divorced Savio a year before her death. His motive for killing her, prosecutors said, was fear that a pending settlement would run him financially.
The 12 jurors, comprised of seven men and five women including a poet, a mail carrier and a man who said his favorite show was Criminal Minds, agreed.
Officials also suspect he killed his fourth wife because she could finger him for Savio’s death; her family hopes he will be charged in Stacy’s disappearance.
Prosecutors were prohibited from even telling jurors Stacy Peterson is presumed dead or that her husband is the lone suspect in her disappearance.
He says she ran off with another man and is still alive.
Additionally, prosecutors faced enormous hurdles, notably no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio’s death and no witnesses placing him at the scene.
They were forced to rely on typically barred hearsay – statements Savio made to others before she died and that Stacy Peterson made before she vanished.
In 2008, Illinois passed a law tailored to Peterson’s case, dubbed “Drew’s Law,” permitting hearsay at trials in rare circumstances. It apparently paid off.
Prosecutors also had to establish the most basic fact for a murder trial: that there was actually a murder, which some pathologists disputed in court.
The last defense witness was Thomas Peterson, the 19-year-old son of Savio and Drew Peterson, who says he never believed for a second his father did it.
Fascination with the former Bolingbrook, Ill., police sergeant arose from speculation that he used his law enforcement expertise to get away with murder.
Peterson could still win release someday, as he has vowed to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds Illinois’ hearsay law is unconstitutional.