Drew Peterson may launch a long-shot bid to the U.S. Supreme Court after Illinois’ high court upheld his 2012 murder conviction in a long-awaited 40-page opinion Thursday.
The Illinois Supreme Court said comments from Peterson’s dead third wife — Kathleen Savio — and missing fourth wife — Stacy Peterson — were properly used to find him guilty at the end of a contentious trial five years ago in Will County.
It also shot down the former Bolingbrook cop’s complaints about his former lawyer, Joel Brodsky, as well as an argument that prosecutors shouldn’t have been allowed to tell jurors that Peterson once tried to put a $25,000 hit out on his third wife.
Less than an hour after Thursday’s ruling came down, Peterson’s attorney, Steve Greenberg, said in a statement his next steps include “a likely appeal to the United States Supreme Court.” However, he said he had not yet had an opportunity to share the opinion with Peterson, who is in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.
The odds of the U.S. Supreme Court taking up Peterson’s case are extremely low.
Greenberg also complained of two sets of laws in Illinois: One for most, and one for his client.
“When it comes to Mr. Peterson, the laws were changed, the rules were broken, and, in some respects, trial counsel was deficient,” Greenberg said. “The ruling today demonstrates that courts are willing to overlook the obvious to achieve a certain result. 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.”
A Will County judge gave the now 63-year-old Peterson 38 years behind bars for Savio’s murder. And while the stakes were high for Thursday’s ruling, they had been tempered since Peterson landed a second conviction last year for a murder-for-hire plot that targeted Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow.
Even if the state’s high court had overturned Peterson’s murder conviction, he still must serve a 40-year sentence for the plot against Glasgow. As it stands, Peterson is not due to get out of prison until May 7, 2081.
Meanwhile, Peterson’s fourth wife has been missing nearly 10 years — the anniversary arrives next month — and no one has ever been charged in connection with her disappearance. Peterson remains the prime suspect. However, he may never have landed behind bars had she not vanished without a trace.
Savio’s body had been found in a dry bathtub on March 1, 2004. Authorities first ruled her death an accident but later exhumed and re-examined her body before deciding her death was a homicide. Peterson was arrested for her murder in May 2009.
The bulk of Thursday’s unanimous opinion, authored by Justice Mary Jane Theis, addressed whether prosecutors properly used so-called hearsay statements — comments that Savio and Stacy made to others before the trial — to convict Peterson.
The high court said it found “no error in the admission of Kathleen’s and Stacy’s hearsay statements at trial.” It did so based on a legal theory that lets prosecutors use such evidence if a defendant, through wrongdoing, prevents someone from testifying.
It said that a finding that Peterson killed Kathleen to prevent her from testifying could not be found unreasonable. And it did not find grounds to overturn the finding that Peterson murdered his fourth wife to prevent her from taking the stand.
Another point of contention was the bombshell testimony from divorce attorney Harry Smith that Stacy asked him before she disappeared if she could get more money in a divorce if she threatened to tell the police “how (Peterson) killed Kathy.”
Peterson has argued that Smith violated his attorney/client privilege with Stacy by sharing that conversation. However, at the outset of their discussion, Smith warned Stacy that he could not represent her. Therefore, the Supreme Court found, “such a relationship never materialized.”
“What is relevant is that Smith made plain to Stacy that he ‘could not represent her,’” Theis wrote.
The court also rejected Peterson’s argument that he received ineffective assistance of counsel — despite his massive legal team at trial — because Smith gave that damning testimony only when he was called to the stand by Brodsky, Peterson’s lead attorney.
The court could not say the decision was “not within the realm of trial strategy.” Further, it shot down arguments that Brodsky had a conflict of interest because he stood to profit from a media contract related to the case.
Finally, the court found that Peterson’s lawyers had plenty of time to react at trial to testimony that Peterson offered a man $25,000 to find someone that could have Savio “taken care of.”