Fellow cop: Drew Peterson said ‘my life would be easier’ if Savio were dead
BY DAN ROZEK AND JON SEIDEL Staff Reporters August 7, 2012 9:42AM
FILE - In this May 7, 2009 file booking photo provided by the Will County Sheriff's office in Joliet, Ill., former Bolingbrook, Ill., police officer Drew Peterson is shown. Peterson is charged with first-degree murder in the 2004 drowning death of his former wife Kathleen Savio. Opening statements in his trial are scheduled to begin Tuesday, July 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Will County Sheriff's Office, File)
Updated: September 9, 2012 6:12AM
They looked like a pair of happy divorce lawyers.
But Drew Peterson was clearly irritated.
He complained to a Bolingbrook police colleague that the two men looked happy “because they’re getting all of my money.”
Then, Peterson turned his ire toward his ex-wife, Kathleen Savio, saying “my life would be easier” if she were dead, Lt. James Coughlin testified Tuesday, recounting what Peterson allegedly told him during a chance meeting at the Will County courthouse in February 2004.
A few weeks later, Savio drowned in her bathtub. Coughlin said he quickly went to investigators to relay Peterson’s seemingly prescient comment.
Peterson’s attorneys demanded that Coughlin’s testimony be tossed out, arguing that prosecutors didn’t warn them he would dispute a conflicting FBI account of the encounter.
Will County Judge Edward Burmila, who already has weighed two requests for mistrials because of missteps by prosecutors, said he would rule Wednesday on the issue.
Coughlin’s testimony highlighted another difficult day for prosecutors.
An Illinois State Police investigator steadfastly defend his initial conclusion that Savio’s drowning death was an accident, not a murder. Crime scene investigator Robert Deel said he reached that decision after finding no signs of a struggle or disturbance in the bathroom where Savio, 40, was found curled on her side, a blood streak oozing from her head.
“It’s still your opinion Kathy Savio died in an accident?” Peterson attorney Joel Brodsky asked Deel near the end of his testimony.
“Yes, sir,” Deel replied promptly.
Prosecutors repeatedly questioned Deel — who said he had investigated eight to 10 homicides before probing Savio’s death — about the extent of his investigation to reach that conclusion.
Deel said he spent about two hours in Savio’s Bolingbrook home after arriving early on March 2, 2004. But he didn’t try to take fingerprints from a can of carpet cleaner found nearby, nor did he immediately try to question Peterson or any of Savio’s family about her death.
“I was not thinking it was a homicide at that point,” said Deel, who sparred at times with Assistant State’s Attorney Kathy Patton.
Asked what his initial conclusion was when he arrived at the home, Deel answered bluntly.
“There was a dead body in the bathtub,” he said.
Deel testified at a 2004 inquest that ruled Savio’s death was an accident. It was reclassified as a homicide in 2007 after the disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, which spurred authorities to exhume Savio’s body and review her death.
Even if prosecutors’ efforts to undercut Deel’s investigation swayed some jurors to consider that Savio was killed, it doesn’t link Peterson to her death, defense attorney Steve Greenberg said outside the courthouse.
“Undermining their own investigator doesn’t prove anything,” Greenberg said.
Because Burmila is still considering their request to throw out Coughlin’s testimony, defense attorneys would say little else about Tuesday’s proceedings.
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow left the courthouse without commenting.
Coughlin acknowledged he didn’t take Peterson’s offhand comment about his divorce woes seriously.
Still, when Savio was found dead in her bathtub a few weeks later, on March 1, 2004, Coughlin said he felt he needed to tell Illinois State Police investigators about his purported conversation with Peterson.
“It was a piece of information in light of the time frame that I thought they needed to know,” Coughlin said.
Brodsky questioned his courthouse meeting with Peterson, using court records to show that Peterson wasn’t present at the only divorce hearing in February 2004, when Coughlin said he saw his fellow officer.
Earlier, Michael VanOver, a Will County deputy coroner, testified that he thought Savio’s death looked suspicious but admitted that he never reported those concerns because state police said the death appeared to be accidental.
VanOver said that’s why he didn’t follow his own office’s protocol for handling homicides or suspicious deaths, which requires taking extra steps to preserve evidence and to immediately contact his boss.
“I was following the lead of the state police,” VanOver testified.
VanOver, who pronounced Savio dead, said the way she was curled on her side in her small oval tub made him question how she could have landed that way accidentally.
“It was a fairly small tub. If a person would have fell, I don’t believe they would have came to rest that way,” he said.