JOLIET, Ill. — Drew Peterson, the former Illinois police officer who gained notoriety after his much-younger wife vanished in 2007, was convicted Thursday of murdering a previous wife in a case centered on secondhand hearsay statements from both women.
Peterson, 58, sat stoically looking straight ahead and did not react as the judge announced jurors had found him guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Her relatives gasped, then hugged each other as they cried quietly.
Illinois has no death penalty, and Peterson now faces a maximum 60-year prison term when sentenced Nov. 26.
The trial was the first of its kind in Illinois history, with prosecutors building their case largely on hearsay thanks to a new law, dubbed ‘‘Drew’s Law,’’ tailored to Peterson’s case. That hearsay, prosecutors had said, would let his third and fourth wives ‘‘speak from their graves’’ through family and friends to convict Peterson.
Peterson’s personality loomed over the trial, and bystanders gathered outside the courthouse began chanting, ‘‘Loser. Loser. Loser,’’ as reporters interviewed his attorneys. Before his 2009 arrest, the glib, cocky Peterson seemed to taunt authorities, joking on talk shows and even suggesting a ‘‘Win a Date With Drew’’ contest. His notoriety inspired a television movie starring Rob Lowe.
‘‘The whole world has been waiting for Drew Peterson to be convicted. They hate him. . . . They passed a law to get this individual,’’ said defense attorney Joe Lopez.
The verdict was a vindication for Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow and his team, who gambled by putting on a case they conceded was filled with holes.
Glasgow drew cheers from the crowd gathered outside the courthouse.
‘‘He was a thug,’’ Glasgow said of Peterson. ‘‘He would threaten people because he had a gun and a badge. Nobody would take him on, but we took him on and he lost.’’
A neighbor came across Savio’s body on March 1, 2004. She was face down in her bathtub, her hair soaked in blood, and a 2-inch gash was on the back of her head.
The death of the 40-year-old aspiring nurse was initially deemed an accident. After Peterson’s fourth wife, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson, vanished in 2007, Savio’s body was exhumed, reexamined, and her death reclassified as a homicide.
Drew Peterson had divorced Savio a year before her death. His motive for killing her, prosecutors said, was fear that a pending settlement, which included their $300,000 home, would wipe him out financially.
The 12 jurors deliberated for more than 13 hours before reaching a decision. The seven men and five women raised questions about whether they were taking the case seriously by donning different coordinated outfits each day of testimony, but did not wear matching attire Thursday.
Jurors didn’t talk to reporters after the verdict. They issued a brief statement saying they believe their decision was just.
Fascination nationwide with the former Bolingbrook police sergeant arose from speculation he sought to parlay three decades of law enforcement expertise into getting away with murder.