JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Prosecutors told jurors during closing arguments at Drew Peterson's murder trial Tuesday that overwhelming circumstantial evidence proved the former suburban Chicago police officer drowned his third wife in 2004 and left her in her bathtub.
Defense attorney Joel Lopez countered that the state had presented "garbage evidence" during their five-week presentation of more than 30 witnesses.
Prosecutors contend Peterson killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, because he feared a pending divorce settlement would wipe him out financially. Savio's death was initially deemed an accident, but it was later ruled a homicide after her body was exhumed following the 2007 disappearance of Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Peterson.
As he began his remarks Tuesday, prosecutor Chris Koch walked up to the defense table, pointed his finger at Peterson and boomed, "It is clear this man killed Kathleen Savio."
In his more than hourlong closing, Koch went through more than half a dozen hearsay statements at the heart of the state's case, including witnesses who testified Savio told them her husband repeatedly warned her he could kill her and make her death look accidental.
Punching his fist into his palm for emphasis, Koch said Peterson slipped into his estranged wife's suburban Chicago home — just a few blocks from his new house — in the early morning hours before March 1, 2004.
"He went into that house, pushed her down, held her down until she inhaled fluid and drowned," said Koch.
In the recurring mantra of his closing, Koch told jurors to use common sense in assessing Peterson's alleged threats and suspicious behavior in the days after Savio's death. Peterson, he said, went to Savio's house the day after her body was found there to wash blood from the tub.
"Are you kidding me?!" balked Koch. "What in the world is he doing there? Murders sometimes go back to the crime scene."
Lopez told jurors that when they deliberate, they are required to hear a voice whispering to each of them that Peterson is innocent. He said they can't conclude Peterson is guilty unless the evidence is overwhelming and compelling.
"You have to find he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt — not maybe, not probably (he did it)," he said. "Are we going to convict someone on speculation? ... This is America!"
Lopez constantly doubled back to his central argument: that the state hadn't even proved Savio's death was, in fact, a murder.
"The framers of the Constitution would barf on this evidence," said Lopez.
But Koch told jurors it would be impossible for Savio to have received the gash on the back of her head and 14 bruises on the front of her body unless someone had attacked her.
"How can you get (all those wounds) in one fall?" he asked. "You can't."
Peterson, 58, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. If convicted, he faces a maximum 60-year prison sentence.
He is suspected but hasn't been charged in Stacy Peterson's disappearance, and prosecutors have been barred during the trial from mentioning or hinting that that she is presumed dead and that her husband is the lone suspect in her disappearance.
The hearsay presented by prosecutors including statements Savio made to others before she died and that Stacy Peterson made before she disappeared.
Such testimony usually isn't allowed in court, but Illinois passed a law in 2008, dubbed "Drew's Law," permitting it under rare circumstances.
Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm
- Politics & Government
- Crime & Justice
- Drew Peterson
- Chris Koch