Drew Peterson jurors: Hearsay evidence was key to verdict
BY DAN ROZEK, BOB OKON AND TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporters
Jurors from the Drew Peterson case are from left, Patricia Timke(1st alternate) Teresa Mathews, Eduardo Saldana, foreman, and Jeremy Massey as they speak to the media at the Will County Administration Building in Joliet, IL on Friday September 7, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
The jurors quickly decided that Drew Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, had been murdered — the question they debated was whether the former Bolingbrook cop killed her.
And where and exactly how.
Though his jury deliberated for nearly 14 hours before convicting Peterson of drowning Savio, several jurors said Friday they never determined precisely how he carried out the 2004 killing.
“We’re not sure how that happened exactly,” said Jeremy Massey, one of four jurors who spoke at a news conference about Peterson’s trial and their private discussions.
“We had a couple of different theories,” agreed juror Teresa Mathews of Joliet, though she said most jurors didn’t even believe the 40-year-old Savio drowned in her oval-shaped bathtub where she was found.
Despite that uncertainty after hearing 20 days of testimony, jurors immediately leaned toward convicting the 58-year-old Peterson of murdering Savio, whose death initially was labeled an accident.
Their first vote once they began deliberating on Wednesday was 7-4 for a guilty verdict with one person undecided.
It only got worse for Peterson, with jurors at the end of their first day of discussions voting 11-1 to convict him of murdering Savio.
The testimony that pushed them to the verge of convicting Peterson, jurors said, was a mix of medical evidence and hearsay statements, including damning claims offered by his missing fourth wife, Stacy.
Three pathologists testified for prosecutors that Savio’s injuries — an inch-long cut on the back of her head, bruises on the front of her body, fresh abrasions on her arm and buttock — couldn’t have been caused by an accidental fall in the tub.
“There were too many bruises over too many parts of the body,” Mathews said.
She and other jurors theorized that Savio might have been injured when attacked from behind, then drowned in the bathroom sink or possibly even the toilet. Deep bruises across her upper chest could have resulted from Savio being pressed down into those basins, Mathews said.
The strong medical evidence — which also included photos of the 5-foot-5 Savio wedged tightly into the 40-inch-long tub — almost immediately settled whether Savio had been killed or had died accidentally.
“We first talked about what the doctors had to say and we pretty much all agreed it was a homicide,” said jury foreman Eduardo Saldana of Bolingbrook.
Jurors then relied on statements related by Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, to conclude he murdered his third wife.
“The hearsay testimony from Stacy, that was the biggest part of this,” said Saldana, a 22-year-old college student who became foreman because he volunteered and no one else wanted the job.
Rev. Neil Schori testified that Stacy told him in August 2007 that she had been ordered by Drew to lie to police when questioned about Savio’s death.
Stacy also confided that she woke up and found Drew missing on the night Savio was killed, then saw him return home dressed in black and carrying a bag of women’s clothing that he tossed in the washer, Schori testified.
But the most crucial hearsay evidence came from divorce attorney Harry Smith, who had been called as a defense witness after prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to get him to the witness stand.
Stacy Peterson said during an October 2007 phone call that she knew how her husband had killed Savio, Smith testified, though she asked if she could use that information to get more money from him in a divorce settlement.
“Neil Schori kinda opened things up, the lawyer’s testimony was the one that got us,” said Saldana, who in the jury’s first poll voted not guilty.
After the first day of deliberations, it was a matter of allowing holdout juror Ron Supalo time to weigh those hearsay statements against what he saw as a troubling lack of physical evidence that put Peterson in Savio’s house.
On Thursday — the second day of deliberations — Supalo during five hours of discussions gradually changed his mind and voted with other jurors to convict Peterson.
“A lot of things, talking to other jury members,” Supalo said in an earlier interview. “I wrote down questions I need clarification on. ... I just thought in my mind we had reached beyond reasonable doubt.”
Shortly before reaching their verdict, jurors sent out an unusual note asking Judge Edward Burmila to define what the word “unanimous” meant in their written instructions.
On Friday, jurors — who had often color-coordinated their wardrobes during the trial — were vague on why they asked the question.
“It was just something we wanted to clear up to make sure we got everything right,” Saldana said.
But Saldana and others insisted there were no serious arguments during the deliberations and no pressure placed on any juror to agree. “We had discussions. It never got to the point where it was heated,” said Saldana.
The jurors also commented on several other issues during the trial, including:
◆ Jurors weren’t fans of the cartoon images and other pictures used by defense attorney Joe Lopez during his closing arguments, particularly a grinning, purple Cheshire cat Lopez showed when describing Smith’s testimony.
“That was very demeaning to us jurors. That was not necessary,” Mathews said.
◆ The jurors also weren’t impressed by the initial 2004 Illinois State Police investigation that rapidly concluded Savio’s death was an accident.
“We felt that any death should be investigated thoroughly,” said Saldana.
Two state police investigators testified they allowed Peterson to sit with Stacy while she was questioned about Savio’s death, something they agreed was unusual and wasn’t noted in their official reports.
“The state police should have never allowed Stacy to be interviewed with Drew present,” Mathews said. “That was a big no-no.”
◆ Saldana also offered a unique assessment of Peterson, who after Stacy vanished wise-cracked on TV.
“He was a real serious guy,” Saldana said.
◆ Alternate juror Patricia Timke didn’t get to vote on the verdict, but said her fellow jurors made the right decision.
“I would have done the same as those people,” she said.