Drew Peterson Found Guilty of Killing Wife, Making It Look Like Accident

Peterson faces 60 years in prison if found guilty of murdering his wife.

JOLIET, Ill., Sept. 6, 2012— -- Former Illinois cop Drew Peterson was found guilty today of killing his wife, Kathleen Savio, and making it look like an accident in 2004.

The jury returned a verdict after two days of deliberations, just an hour after stopping discussions to ask the judge the meaning of the word "unanimous."

Peterson now faces up to 60 years in prison. He will be sentenced in November.

Peterson's third wife, Kathleen Savio, was found dead in her bathtub in 2004, and her death was initially ruled an accident. However, after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared without a trace in 2007, police exhumed Savio's body and reexamined it, changing their finding to homicide.

Peterson was then charged with first-degree murder.

Following the verdict, the jury released a statement saying they had "taken the responsibility bestowed on (them) by the court with great deal of solemnity and diligence."

"After a great amount of deliberation, we have reached a decision we believe is just," the statement said.

After the verdict, members of Savio's family said they finally got what they wanted for Kathleen: justice.

"Today is the culmination of eight years, eight long years, and today we've gotten justice," Savio's nephew, Michael Lisak, said after the verdict. "Today Kathleen Savio, Kitty Savio can finally rest in piece and the Savio family can finally move on."

Lisak noted that the verdict should be a hopeful sign to all victims of domestic abuse.

"Today is a day for battered women, not just Kathleen Savio. Your voice will be heard. My aunt's voice was heard through the grave, she would not stop. They will listen to you now. The Kathleen Savio hearsay law is a real thing," Lisak said, referring to a law that allowed into evidence statements that Savio made to friends and family before she died.

The jury asked to have some of the hearsay statements from the case reread to them Wednesday. Statements that Stacy Peterson made to her pastor and her divorce attorney about Drew Peterson killing Savio were allowed into court testimony because of the Kathleen Savio hearsay law.

Peterson's defense attorneys criticized the prosecution's reliance on hearsay in the case. There was no physical evidence and there were no eyewitness accounts placing Peterson at the scene of Savio's death.

"These jurors were under a lot of pressure. The whole world was watching, and now we wait for appeal," said Joel Brosky, Peterson's lead attorney.

The jury also stopped their deliberations with another question, this one just an hour before reaching their verdict, to ask the judge the meaning of the word "unanimous."

"Just to be clear, judge, what does unanimous mean?" read a note sent by jurors to Judge Edward Burmila this afternoon.

Judge Edward Burmila, who has overseen the six-week murder trial of the former Bolingbrook, Ill., police sergeant, wrote a note back to jurors explaining the meaning and referring the jurors back to the jury instructions he gave Tuesday morning.

"The word unanimous indicates the agreement of all on the matter at hand," the note said.

Stacy Peterson's sister, Cassandra Cales, also attended the trial. She said after the verdict that she hoped Peterson's conviction and impending jail time would convince anyone with knowledge of Stacy's disappearance to come forward.

"Game over, Drew," Cales said. "He can wipe the smirk off his face. It's time to pay."

Peterson has denied any involvement in Savio's death and Stacy Peterson's disappearance. He has never been charged in connection with Stacy's case.

His attorney, Joel Brodsky, said Peterson was "anxious" ahead of the verdict.

"He's a bit anxious but prepared emotionally for whatever happens," Brodsky said Tuesday.

The five-week long trial in Joliet was plagued by legal battles between Peterson's attorneys and prosecutors over which evidence would be allowed in court. Much of the testimony in the case was hearsay, based on statements that Savio and Stacy Peterson made to friends and acquaintances, portraying Peterson as violent and threatening.

Stacy Peterson's divorce attorney, hired before she disappeared, testified that Stacy had asked him about telling authorities that Drew Peterson had killed Savio.

Peterson's attorneys called for a mistrial three times during the course of the trial after prosecutors introduced evidence to the jury that was not approved by Burmila. They withdrew their final request.

In closing arguments on Tuesday, both sides focused on the testimony of their expert witnesses, forensic pathologists who testified about the injuries found on Savio's body. The defense presented experts who testified that Savio's injuries clearly pointed to an accidental death, while the prosecution's experts said the injuries indicated a brutal murder.

Prosecutors reminded the jury that a witness called by the defense admitted that the chance of a healthy adult drowning in a bathtub was "one in a million."

"Drew Peterson had the motive and means to make his third wife, Kathleen Savio's bathtub drowning look like an accident," prosecutor Chris Koch said.

Peterson's defense attorneys, however, remained committed to the fact that there are no eyewitness accounts and there is no physical evidence tying Peterson to the scene of Savio's death.

"There [are] no witnesses or scientific evidence that place Drew at the house. They can't even prove that Ms. Savio was the victim of a homicide," defense attorney Michael Lopez said in his closing argument, according to ABC station WLS-TV. "They're trying to nail Jell-O to a tree -- it's an accident, it's an accident, pure and simple."

"The state has not proved this case beyond a reasonable doubt; this case is riddled with doubt like a piece of Swiss cheese," he said.