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Drew Peterson Trial Verdict Fallout: Appeal Certain; Juror Said Hearsay Evidence Convicted Peterson

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 7, 2012 2:15PM

Drew Peterson’s defense team took a “What? Me Worry?” approach after their client was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his third wife Kathleen Savio Thursday afternoon. When the attorneys weren’t tripping over each other to shout sound bites at the mass of recorders and microphones in front of them, they all agreed that they had a strong case for appeal and were confident the verdict would be overturned.

Peterson attorney Joel Brodsky, who was almost as flippant as Peterson throughout the saga, tried to make lemonade out of lemons. “You know what they say, a conviction is the first step in a successful appeal,” he said.
The reason for such optimism was the hearsay evidence used in the trial. Eleven of the 12 Peterson jury members refused to speak to the press—maybe they weren’t appropriately dressed for their close-up—but the one who did said it was hearsay statements that convicted Peterson.

Juror Ron Supalo told the Chicago Sun-Times, “Without hearsay evidence would I have found him not guilty? Yes. A lot of the jurors said that, too. They were either on the fence or they thought he was innocent. And then with those two hearsay witnesses, bam.”

Supalo said he was the holdout witness responsible for the note to Will County Judge Edward Burmila asking for a definition of what a unanimous verdict meant and sent the note because he felt the hearsay evidence from Kathleen Savio’s divorce attorney, Harry Smith, and Neil Schori, the pastor of Drew Peterson’s missing fourth wife Stacy, was unreliable. (If that was the case, why did he vote to convict?)

Supalo’s hesitancy to convict based on hearsay evidence is exactly the reason an appeal of the Peterson verdict will wind through the appeals system for years. The 2008 “hearsay” law passed by the Illinois State Senate was approved specifically with Drew Peterson in mind. Given the lack of actual physical evidence, those statements from Smith and Schori stand out, as they allowed Stacy Peterson to testify by proxy. The hearsay testimony proved so damning that Peterson was quoted as telling one of his lawyers, “What can you do when the deck is stacked?”

Peterson attorney Joseph “The Shark” Lopez said the defense team believed the jury was “overwhelmed” by the hearsay testimony.

“It’s a dark day in America when you can convict someone on hearsay evidence,” Lopez said. “A very dark day.” “The whole world wanted Drew to be convicted because they have nothing else better to do,” Lopez said.

Legal experts, however, said Peterson has a tough fight ahead of him to get his conviction overturned. Attorney Kathleen Zellner told the Chicago Tribune that “the case is solid. I don’t think there’s reversible error there.

The tribune also noted that Peterson could opt for new legal counsel when he does appeal. This may be something he should consider, since Brodsky, Lopez and his other attorneys failed to secure a not guilty verdict. Legal experts are pointing to the hearsay testimony of Smith as the big mistake in the defense’s case.
Kathleen Savio’s family was understandably elated with the verdict. Nick Savio, Kathleen’s half-brother, said the verdict was “better than the White Sox winning the World Series!"

One member of the Savio family who wasn't happy with the verdict was Thomas Peterson, the son of Drew Peterson and Kathleen Savio. Tom Peterson released a statement via Brodsky.

“I am extremely disappointed in the Savio and Cales families. This concerns my mother and my father. And they have no right to be acting in a manner in which they are. Even when my mother was alive, my grandfather, Henry Savio, had nothing to do with me, my mother and my brother (Kristopher). Neither did my aunts ... I know lawyers will continue to fight and continue to support my father.”

Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow reveled in the moment and took the time to say “I told you so!” to critics who said he couldn’t win a guilty verdict from the jury.

"This case, as you know, went through a sieve," said Glasgow, who took part in the prosecution. "Judge Burmila, he did not let a lot of the evidence come in. I can't imagine that he has put any reversible error into this record."