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Steinberg: Verdict wipes grin off Drew Peterson’s face

Updated: October 9, 2012 2:50PM

Drew Peterson isn’t smiling anymore.

The smirking, joking, ruddy-faced former Bolingbrook police sergeant, who spent years prancing in the limelight surrounding his third wife’s murder and fourth wife’s disappearance, yukking it up on TV and radio, while a revolted, captivated public couldn’t look away, was found guilty of murder Thursday afternoon.

Bet he didn’t expect that. Peterson seemed to think he had it all figured out, that he had covered all the bases, worked all the angles. Peterson seemed like a man marking time, who thought he’d walk free someday, no doubt to marry again — wife No. 5 was already on the hook, at least briefly, while the wheels of justice turned slowly. Though if not her, it surely would certainly be another.

Drew Peterson, guilty. Well, hallelujah for small miracles. Why does that bring surprise and a measure of satisfaction, but not much? Maybe because the verdict won’t bring either woman back, nor compensate those in Chicago and the nation who had to visit Drew’s tawdry little world of self, to see him strut and preen. Maybe because he made us watch him, and we did.

There’s another question worth asking before Peterson is dropped down a hole into the penal system for a good many decades — how much did his law enforcement connections thwart justice, at first? How close did he come to getting off due to the automatic courtesy that cops extend each, an instinctive pass that covers many sins?

Drew Peterson isn’t the only bad guy to benefit from that.

If success hadn’t emboldened him, he would have got away with it. At first Savio’s death was ruled accidental, Peterson’s law enforcement pals vouching that he would never harm a fly, an alibi that stood, until wife No. 4, Stacy, went missing.

One wife dying after slipping in a bathtub at age 40 strained credibility. Another vanishing pointed the finger back at Peterson. Savio’s body was exhumed, and a less cozy pathologist ruled she had been murdered.

The hard evidence was nonexistent, and it took a skein of circumstantial evidence to convict him. Had the jury ruled the other way, nobody would have been surprised.

Which means that tonight there is a woman or women in the Bolingbrook area who very nearly became Wife No. 5, had Drew Peterson walked. That woman or women might want to say a prayer, give thanks, then look in the mirror and ask herself a few hard questions.

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