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Editorial: ‘Game over, Drew’

Updated: October 9, 2012 2:36PM

That big sigh of relief you heard Thursday?

A Will County jury found Drew Peterson guilty of murder.

The Smirk is behind bars, very possibly for good.

After five weeks of testimony, the retired Bolingbrook police sergeant stands convicted of murdering his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in a case that relied largely on secondhand hearsay statements from Savio and Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, who disappeared in 2007.

Once he’s sentenced in November, we’ll be glad to see the last of Peterson. His cavalier attitude toward the seriousness of the charges and the fates of his wives got under our skin. He made himself a poster child for the scourge of domestic violence. Could anyone have stomached the sight of an acquitted Drew Peterson making the rounds of the talk shows, suggesting another “Win a Date With Drew” contest and treating the death of one woman and the unexplained disappearance of another as little more than an amusement?

Instead, Peterson sat quietly looking straight ahead as the judge intoned that jurors had convicted him of first-degree murder. Cassandra Cales, sister of Stacy Peterson, later summed it up this way: “Game over, Drew.”

Savio’s brother-in-law, Mitch Dorman, said: “Finally, finally, finally. . . . We finally got that murdering bastard.”

But the satisfaction of seeing Peterson put away may be tempered in the long run by how this case changes the way we mete out justice in Illinois. To open the door to hearsay evidence, the Legislature in 2008 enacted “Drew’s Law,” which upended long-established legal principles. The purpose of a trial is to arrive at the truth, and secondhand testimony has traditionally been viewed as a minefield that can lead to grave injustices.

Peterson’s case may be over, but the law remains on the books. Those who celebrate Peterson’s conviction today are likely to feel less jubilant if a defense lawyer in some future case uses hearsay evidence to free a defendant who otherwise might have gone to prison for a serious crime.

Though Peterson has been convicted, the jury is out on whether the use of hearsay testimony will stand. Appeals in this case could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Common sense says Drew Peterson is right where he belongs — and may he never enjoy another day of freedom. The evidence, though much of it circumstantial and hearsay, was overwhelming.

But the courts must vigilantly guard against any future misuse of “Drew’s Law.”

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