Illinois high court upholds former cop Peterson's murder conviction

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 21, 2017 12:31 PM

(Reuters) - The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction of former Chicago-area police officer Drew Peterson for murdering his third wife.

Peterson, 63, who was sentenced to 38 years in prison for the 2004 murder of Kathleen Savio, was given an additional 40 years in 2016 after being found guilty of trying to hire a hit man to kill the prosecutor who argued for his conviction at his first trial.

Peterson's attorneys had urged the state's highest court to overturn his conviction of Savio's murder on several technical grounds, including the admission of hearsay statements and the competence of his lawyer for calling as a defense witness Savio's divorce lawyer, Harry Smith.

The court's seven justices, however, unanimously rejected all of Peterson's arguments, upholding an earlier ruling by an appellate court.

"Based on our review of the record in this case, we conclude that defendant has failed to demonstrate that counsel’s decision to call Smith as a witness at trial was 'not within the realm of trial strategy,'” the court said in its 40-page opinion.

Peterson's lawyer, Steven Greenberg, accused the court of applying a legal double standard to his client and said he intends to appeal the ruling to U.S. Supreme Court.

"The ruling today demonstrates that courts are willing to overlook the obvious to achieve a certain result," he said in a statement. "As a nation of laws, this is a fundamentally flawed premise, and if we operate in this manner, over time all of us will suffer."

In May 2016, Peterson, a former Bolingbrook, Illinois, police sergeant, was found guilty of solicitation of murder and solicitation of murder for hire when a jury agreed he had plotted in 2014 to find someone to kill James Glasgow, the Will County state’s attorney who prosecuted him for Savio’s murder.

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Peterson was convicted in September 2012 of killing Savio during a contentious divorce more than eight years earlier, and then trying to make her death look like an accident. Her body was found in a bathtub.

Savio's death was initially ruled an accident. But after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy Cales, disappeared in 2007, Savio's body was exhumed, an autopsy was performed and her death was ruled a homicide.

The case was the inspiration for a popular Lifetime television network movie, “Drew Peterson: Untouchable,” starring Rob Lowe.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Patrick Enright and Dan Grebler)