By Matthew Walberg, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — Jurors in the Drew Peterson trial said they never doubted his third wife, Kathleen Savio, was murdered.
But it took statements from a divorce attorney — ironically called by the defense to testify — and the pastor of his now-missing fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, to convince them Drew Peterson did it.
Stacy’s remarks to the Rev. Neil Schori and Harry Smith that she knew Peterson killed Savio helped decide Peterson’s guilt, jurors said.
“We believed Stacy,” said jury foreman Eduardo Saldana, 22.
In a 25-minute interview with the media Friday, three of the jurors spoke about their deliberations that led them to declare Peterson, 58, guilty of murder after 14 hours of deliberations that ended Thursday afternoon.
Jurors said they quickly rejected the defense theory that Savio, who was found dead in the bathtub in her home on March 1, 2004, drowned as a result of a slip-and-fall accident.
And the defendant’s first words after discovering her body only bolstered their belief that he made good on his previous threats to kill her.
“One of the first things Drew Peterson said … is that ‘They’re going to think I did it,’” Saldana said. “When we heard that, that kind of confirmed the threats that he made toward Kathleen.”
Nonetheless, they began their deliberations Wednesday split 7-4 in favor of a guilty verdict, with Saldana undecided. By the end of the day, they polled again and found only one juror remained unconvinced that Peterson was guilty.
The split prompted their request Thursday to review the transcripts of Schori and Smith, in whom Stacy Peterson confided that her husband murdered Savio. Stacy has been missing since October 2007.
“The testimony of Stacy, that was the biggest part about this,” Saldana said. “Neil Schori’s (testimony) kind of opened things up, but it was the lawyer’s testimony that got us the most.”
Smith was barred from testifying as a witness for the prosecution.
But Peterson and his lead defense attorney, Joel Brodksy, later called him as a defense witness in the hope that he would show jurors that Stacy, who was contemplating a divorce, made up the allegations about her husband to get more money out of him.
Instead, Smith testified that when Stacy asked whether she could use her knowledge of how her husband killed Savio as leverage in a divorce proceeding, he warned her she could be guilty of concealing a homicide.
It was then that the defense gambit failed.
“(When) the lawyer said ‘concealment of a homicide,’ I knew he was telling the truth,” Saldana said.
“They realized right away that it might not have been a good idea that they called him as a witness for the defense,” said juror Teresa Mathews, who joined fellow jurors Saldana and Jeremy Massey. An alternate juror also attended the news conference.
The Peterson team’s contention that Savio drowned after falling in the tub was not believable, she said.
“There were too many bruises on too many parts of the body,” said Mathews, who also found it strange that the bottles of bath products arrayed around the edge of the tub weren’t knocked over by Savio if she fell.
In addition, the position of her body didn’t seem consistent with a fall, Massey said.
But Mathews said jurors said they still don’t know exactly how Savio was murdered.
“Possibly she was grabbed from behind and possibly he stuck her head under the sink, and that’s how she got that big gash on the back of her head,” Mathews speculated. “Otherwise she possibly was drowned in the toilet, and he broke her clavicles on the edge of the toilet.”
Jurors said they thought the defense attorneys were skilled, though Mathews smiled slightly when she offered that “some were better than others.”
Attorney Joseph Lopez offended the jury with his use of an image of the Cheshire Cat to mock Harry Smith during his closing argument.
“That was very demeaning to us jurors,” she said. “That was really not necessary.”
But Lopez, famous for wearing loud colors and pink socks, did inspire the jury early on to coordinate their clothing. They dressed to the nines one day, wore sports apparel another, and wore red, white and blue another day.
“There was no message,” Mathews said of their clothing. “Just one day I said, ‘Hey, do you all want to wear blue tomorrow?’ … And it just grew from there.”
Mathews said they did get clearance from Judge Edward Burmila before they wore the sports apparel.
Asked how they came up with the idea, Saldana shrugged.
“We were bored.”