Attorney for Ill. murder suspect’s 3rd wife says 4th wife considered extorting husband

By Don Babwin, AP
Monday, February 8, 2010

Lawyer: Wife mulled extorting Ill. murder suspect

JOLIET, Ill. — Days before a former suburban Chicago police officer’s fourth wife vanished in 2007, she told a divorce attorney that her husband thought she suspected he had killed his previous wife and suggested extorting money from him to keep quiet, the lawyer testified Monday.

The dramatic details provided by Harry Smith were the first in more than three weeks of testimony that recounted Stacy Peterson talking directly about Drew Peterson’s alleged involvement in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Stacy Peterson told the lawyer that her husband was angry because he believed she had told a person named “Tom” that he killed Savio, Smith testified.

Smith, a divorce attorney for Savio, did not further identify Tom, but it is the name of one of Savio and Peterson’s sons and of Thomas Morphey, a friend of Drew Peterson who testified that he helped the former Bolingbrook police sergeant move a blue barrel he believed contained Stacy Peterson’s remains.

The hearing will determine what hearsay evidence will be allowed at Peterson’s upcoming murder trial. Savio’s body was found in her bathtub in 2004 and her death was ruled an accident. But after Stacy Peterson went missing in 2007, Savio’s body was exhumed and her death reclassified as a homicide.

Drew Peterson denied wrongdoing in Savio’s death. He remains the only suspect in Stacy Peterson’s disappearance but has not been charged.

On Monday, Smith did not say that Stacy Peterson said her husband had killed Savio, only that Drew Peterson believed that she had told someone he had.

Smith said that Stacy Peterson had called him for her own divorce, but he told her he could not represent her because he thought it was a conflict of interest.

He is also the first witness to suggest Stacy Peterson had a plan to squeeze money out of her husband.

“She asked, ‘Could we get more money out of Drew if we threatened to tell the police he killed Kathy?’” said Smith. He told her that plan might be dangerous, but Stacy Peterson said her husband would never try to hurt her and that she had too much dirt on him at the police department.

“She wasn’t concerned about her safety,” Smith said.

Smith’s testimony also suggested a motive for why Peterson might have wanted Savio dead — money.

In detailed testimony Smith said things were not going well for Drew Peterson and he knew it in the later stages of his contentious divorce from Savio.

He testified that shortly before Savio was found dead, a judge had told him and Peterson’s attorney that she was about to recommend that Savio be allowed to keep the couple’s Bolingbrook home, receive a share of his police pension, receive child support and some money from the sale of a bar the couple had owned.

“He was not happy, he was angry,” said Smith recalling how he watched Drew Peterson’s lawyer explain to him what the judge had told him.

As other witnesses have testified, Smith said Savio repeatedly told him that Peterson had threatened to kill her and make it look like an accident.

And like other witnesses, he also testified that Savio had told him about how Peterson, wearing all black clothing, surprised her in her house and threatened her with a knife.

He said Savio told him on several occasions, “If I die, Drew did it.”

Smith acknowledged that he thought Savio was paranoid and did not take such talk seriously, until he heard she had died.

He said he quickly called the Illinois State Police with his suspicions. He’s at least the third witness to testify to doing so in the days after Savio’s death.

Like the others, he said Illinois State Police never called him back.

Illinois State Police have admitted to not conducting a thorough investigation, failing to collect a single fingerprint or even seal the house because authorities believed her death was an accident.

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