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.
Therefore trial participants suggest that Peterson’s defense — whom lead attorney Joel Brodsky repeatedly referred to as “the dream team” — fell victim to a devastating miscalculation by its leader and the former Bolingbrook police sergeant’s unyielding loyalty to him.
In other words, several jurors have placed Peterson’s conviction directly at Brodsky’s feet, saying the decision to call Kathleen Savio’s divorce attorney, Harry Smith, tipped the scales in the prosecution’s favor. Smith told jurors that Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, asked him if she could get more money in a divorce if she threatened to tell police about her husband’s role in Savio’s death.
Brodsky decided to call Smith against the rest of the defense team’s advice. Defense attorney Steve Greenberg was overheard yelling at Brodsky in a courthouse hallway before Smith’s appearance, pleading with Brodsky not to do it.
The debate ended when Peterson sided with Brodsky, sources said.
Brodsky and Peterson have walked lock step since 2007, when Peterson chose the then-unknown immigration attorney, who had never tried a murder case, to represent him. The two often acted as comedic duo, yukking it up on radio and TV shows as volunteers scoured the region for Stacy, who vanished nearly five years ago.
“Drew trusts Joel,” defense team member Joseph Lopez said. “Joel is the lead attorney. The rest of us are just there to help.”
Greenberg said calling Smith was not the only mistake in the trial but the most damaging.
“No one in the courtroom — on either defense or prosecution side — knew the case better than Joel,” Greenberg said. “Joel had the foresight to bring on a group of good, experienced trial lawyers. But he didn’t listen to them.”
Tensions had been building between Brodsky and Greenberg long before Smith’s appearance. Though Greenberg had a good rapport with Will County Judge Edward Burmila and had been winning most of the defense motions, Brodsky banned him from making objections and often hushed him in court.
Brodsky, who preferred other attorneys call him “coach,” said he needs trial partners who cooperate with him.
“Greenberg did some things that were really good,” Brodsky said. “Keeping (Stacy Peterson friend and hearsay witness Scott) Rosetto off the stand, for instance, was fantastic work. In a team setting, he can be a very difficult person to work with.”
Still, Greenberg and Brodsky presented a united front before the TV cameras during their frequent news conferences. Wearing sunglasses and wide grins, they often poked fun at prosecutors and witnesses.
The duo, along with Lopez, were sharply criticized for a news conference during jury selection in which they mocked Stacy Peterson’s disappearance. They later apologized.
Only two members of the defense team — Meczyk and Darryl Goldberg — shunned the media spotlight during the trial. Lisa Lopez went to the press availabilities but rarely spoke.
Meczyk, a veteran criminal defense lawyer, acknowledged that the Peterson publicity machine made him uncomfortable at times.
“I’m from the old school,” he said during deliberations. “It’s not my style.”
Peterson’s lawyers agreed to represent him for free, lured by the case’s challenges and the acclaim that would come from an acquittal. In the end, they lost more than five weeks’ worth of billable hours.
“I thought it would be fun,” Lopez said. “I knew it was going to be a landmark case, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Despite the defense team’s inner turmoil, the jurors gave approval to the attorneys’ performance.
“He had good lawyers,” jury foreman Eduardo Saldana said Friday. “You know, they had their tactics.”
In spite of the ups and downs Peterson’s Dream Team went through, jury foreman Eduardo Saldana, 22. Said, “We believed Stacy.”
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.”
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 co-ordinate 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.”