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Drew Peterson juror: Hearsay evidence did him in

RSupalo member jury thfound Drew Petersguilty murdering his third wife Kathleen Savio talks reporters his Bolingbrook driveway September 6 2012.

Ron Supalo, a member of the jury that found Drew Peterson guilty of murdering his third wife, Kathleen Savio, talks to reporters in his Bolingbrook driveway on September 6, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 9, 2012 2:34PM

In the end, it was Stacy Peterson who helped convict Drew Peterson of murder.

Stacy Peterson, Drew Peterson’s fourth wife, is missing. Her family believes she’s dead and blames her husband.

But statements she made to two men before she disappeared were cited by a juror Thursday as being crucial in bringing down the brash, silver-haired former Bolingbrook cop.

It was the hearsay evidence against Peterson, the juror said, that convinced him and other jurors to convict Peterson of murder on Thursday in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

“Without hearsay evidence would I have found him not guilty? Yes. A lot of the jurors said that, too,” said Ron Supalo, a juror from Bolingbrook. “They were either on the fence or they thought he was innocent. And then with those two hearsay witnesses, bam.”

The witnesses were a divorce attorney controversially called as a witness by the defense and Stacy Peterson’s pastor.

The jury deliberated for nearly 14 hours over two days before giving their guilty verdict. Supalo said he was the holdout juror stretching out deliberations — because he felt the hearsay evidence was unreliable.

Supalo, said he didn’t sleep Wednesday night as he tossed and turned over whether to join the other 11 jurors in voting to convict Peterson, who became a tabloid sensation when Stacy Peterson vanished five years ago, causing investigators to reopen the investigation into Savio’s supposedly accidental bathtub drowning.

“That was one of the problems I had. ... The hearsay evidence is, well, unreliable,” Supalo said. “And I know the Illinois state legislature passed a law on [expanding the use of hearsay evidence] but I still had problems with it. And it was the damaging testimony from those two witnesses.”

Supalo acknowledged he “had a problem with not being able to place him at the scene.” That was a key point made by Peterson’s defense team.

Prosecutors argued Peterson staged Savio’s death to make it look like an accident so she couldn’t receive any of his police pension and other financial assets in their divorce settlement.

Supalo said he began to come around to a guilty vote after talking it out with his fellow jurors.

“That was the very first thing that I said today. I was like, ‘I may change my vote,’ ” he said. “I said I had some problems. After I read my notes, I told them my concerns and then after about five hours of deliberations, the vote became unanimous.”

When the verdict was announced, Peterson, 58, sat stone-faced — and silent. It was a far different scene from when the cocky, wise-cracking Peterson was arrested. He joked that he must have forgotten to return his library books.

There were gasps in the packed Joliet courtroom when the verdict was read by Judge Edward Burmila. Anna and Sue Doman, Savio’s sisters, hugged each other and started crying.

‘Got you, babe’

It was Savio’s family who had a message to deliver after waiting more than eight years for her former husband to be held responsible for her 2004 death.

“I’m gonna sit by Kitty and let her know she got the bastard!” said Savio’s stepmother, Marcia, explaining that she and other family members planned to visit Kathy’s grave to tell her about the guilty verdict.

Sue Doman lingered in the courtroom afterward, saying she wanted to enjoy seeing Peterson as a convicted wife-killer surrounded by deputies and facing a possible 60-year prison term. He’s due to be sentenced in Nov. 26.

“I wanted to look at him good for the last time and say ‘got you, babe,’ ” Doman said.

The hearsay evidence cited by the juror was a hugely controversial part of the case — causing years of legal arguments.

Peterson’s attorneys privately had even argued among themselves about calling one of the witnesses that ultimately offered damaging testimony against Peterson — Savio’s divorce attorney, Harry Smith.

They debated about calling him to testify about a phone conversation he had with Stacy Peterson. The defense hoped to paint Stacy Peterson as a wife trying to squeeze money out of her husband in a divorce.

But when the defense last week opted to put Smith on the stand, his testimony marked the only time jurors heard anyone testify that Peterson killed Savio.

Smith told jurors Stacy Peterson gave him that information during an October 2007 phone call in which she asked him to represent her when she divorced Peterson.

“She wanted to know if, in my opinion, that the fact he killed Kathy could be used against him in the divorce proceeding,” said Smith.

Defense attorneys apparently wanted to use her conversation with Smith to undermine crucial hearsay statements she made to her pastor a few months earlier — statements Rev. Neil Schori had recounted for jurors earlier in Peterson’s trial.

Schori testified a tearful Stacy Peterson told him on Aug. 31, 2007, that she had been ordered by her husband to lie to police questioning her about Savio’s death — and to not tell investigators she had seen him come home late on the night Savio died, dressed in black and carrying a duffel bag with women’s clothing in it.

And Smith, during his testimony, repeatedly told jurors about Stacy Peterson’s claims that she could tell police how her then-husband allegedly had murdered Savio.

On Thursday night, Smith said he was pleased.

“I absolutely feel good for Kathy and her family,” Smith said late Thursday. “I feel good that after a long road, we accomplished what she hoped for with her warnings — that he would be held accountable. That was her wish.”

Schori said he wept when he heard the verdict. “I feel so honored to be able to give Stacy a voice,” Schori said.

He added that “justice is coming for Stacy’s family, too. We prayed like mad and the right thing happened.”

Color coordination explained

Peterson’s attorneys said they plan to appeal the murder conviction delivered after a contentious five-week trial that relied exclusively on medical evidence and hearsay statements.

The Sun-Times’ Michael Sneed reported that after the conviction, Peterson told his attorney, Joel Brodsky, “‘What can you do when the deck is stacked?’”

Attorney Joseph Lopez said jury members “were overwhelmed by the hearsay” statements presented at the trial, despite efforts by Peterson’s attorneys to bar much of that evidence as unreliable.

“It’s a dark day in America when you can convict someone on hearsay evidence. A very dark day,” Lopez said.

He and other Peterson attorneys also blamed the public and media attention Peterson himself courted in repeated interviews with national and local media outlets.

“The whole world wanted Drew to be convicted,” Lopez said.

The seven men and five women who made up the jury released their own statement, saying: “We have taken the responsibility bestowed on us by the court with a great deal of solemnity and diligence. After much deliberation we have reached a decision we believe is just.”

Seven of the jurors ended up at Brickhouse Pizza in Crest Hill after the conviction. They didn’t stay long and they left a lousy tip, said server Matt Reeves. “Out of seven people, I only got a $2 tip,” Reeves said.

For the record, the jurors ordered: Two shots of tequila, one glass of Chardonnay, one glass of Riesling, two Heinekens, one Miller Lite, one Vodka and Diet Pepsi and a glass of water.

“As soon as I saw a news truck pull up, they started running out the door,” Reeves said. “I said, ‘Are you guys the Drew Peterson jurors?’ One of the guys nodded.”

The jurors made headlines by color coordinating their clothes during the trial. Juror Supalo said he intially balked at the idea.

“I did not want to do anything which might send a message or statement,” he said. “I only did the color coordination five days.”

He said it wasn’t about taking sides or being unified. It was from “being sequestered for all those hours and days. It was something to do.”

‘He was a thug’

Outside the courthouse after the verdict, there were cheers and cars honked as family and friends reacted to the verdict. Some in the crowd held signs, including one saying, “Common Sense Drew is Guilty.” At one point, some sang a song with the refrain, “Drew the Lady Killer,” to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow ripped Peterson as a “thug” who bullied and threatened people — including Savio — because he thought as a police officer he could avoid punishment.

“He’s basically a coward,” Glasgow said. “He was a thug. He would threaten people because he had a gun and a badge. Nobody would ever take him on. Well, we took him on now and he lost.”

Glasgow, who faces re-election in November, pushed relentlessly to prosecute Peterson.

The veteran prosecutor fought a two-year appeals battle that reached the Illinois Supreme Court before he ultimately was allowed to use much of the disputed hearsay statements.

“I was criticized viciously,” Glasgow said of his lengthy fight, though he quickly added: “It’s not about me.”

The family of Stacy Peterson were also ecstatic, saying the verdict is partial justice for her because statements she made before she vanished were heard in the courtroom through the testimony of other witnesses

“Game over, Drew,” Cassandra Cales, Stacy Peterson’s sister, said of her reaction to the verdict.

“She made sure he’d never get back on the street,” added Pam Bosco, a spokeswoman for Stacy’s family, who said the conviction means Peterson “will never be able to hurt another woman again.”

Peterson faces a minimum 20-year prison term, and could be ordered to serve as much as 60 years behind bars.

Savio’s relatives have their own idea of how he should be punished.

“I hope to God he never, ever gets out so he can hurt someone else,” Marcia Savio said. “Now he can rot in hell!”

Contributing: Stefano Esposito, Janet Lundquist, Bob Okon, Rummana Hussain, Lauren FitzPatrick

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