SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The use of hearsay testimony to convict former Chicago-area police officer Drew Peterson in the death of his third wife was proper, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday in upholding the conviction.
The high court, in a unanimous decision, found that hearsay testimony from Peterson’s missing fourth wife did not violate his constitutional right to confront his accusers.
The 63-year-old former police sergeant from the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook is serving a 38-year sentence in the 2004 death of ex-wife Kathleen Savio. He’s also serving a 40-year sentence after a conviction last year for soliciting the murder of the prosecutor who put him behind bars.
Savio’s body was found in a dry bathtub in 2004. Her death was initially ruled accidental, but the case was reopened after the 2007 disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. Savio’s body was exhumed, an autopsy was conducted and her death was ruled a homicide.
Prosecutors had no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio’s death and no witnesses placing him at the scene, so they relied on hearsay — statements Savio made to others before she died and that Stacy Peterson made before she vanished.
Hearsay is any information reported by a witness that is not based on the witness’ direct knowledge. The U.S. Supreme Court has carved out exceptions for hearsay in cases where a defendant’s actions likely prevented the witness from testifying. Illinois passed a hearsay law in 2008 tailored to Drew Peterson’s case, dubbed “Drew’s Law,” which assisted in making some of the evidence admissible.
Stacy Peterson is presumed dead, though her body has never been found. Drew Peterson remains a suspect in her disappearance, but he has never been charged.
Peterson was transferred from a state prison in Chester, Illinois, to a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, in February, after state prison officials cited concerns that he posed a security threat.