JOLIET, Ill. – DrewÂ Peterson – the swaggering Chicago-area police officer who gained notorietyÂ after his much-younger fourth wife vanished in 2007 – was sentenced to 38 yearsÂ in prison on Thursday for murdering his third wife.
The sentence came moments after Peterson shocked the courtroom with a rareÂ public outburst of anger as he proclaimed his innocence in the death of Kathleen Savio.
“I did not kill Kathleen!” he shouted at the top of his lungs, emphasizingÂ every word.
Peterson seemed to look across the courtroom at Savio’s family. Savio’sÂ sister Susan Doman shot back “Yes, you did. You liar!” before the judge orderedÂ sheriff’s deputies to remove her from the courtroom.
Illinois does not have the death penalty, and the 59-year-old Peterson hadÂ faced a maximum 60-year prison term. The judge gave him four years’ credit forÂ time he has served since his arrest.
Jurors convicted Peterson in September in Savio’s 2004 death. NeighborsÂ found the 40-year-old’s body in a dry bathtub at home with a gash on her head – her hair soaked in blood.
Peterson is also a suspect in the disappearance of Stacy Peterson – who wasÂ 23-years-old when she vanished – but he hasn’t been charged in her case. It wasÂ her disappearance that led authorities to take another look at Savio’s death andÂ eventually reclassify it from an accident to a homicide.
Fascination nationwide with Drew Peterson arose from speculation he soughtÂ to use his law enforcement expertise to get away with murder.
After his courtroom outburst, Peterson addressed the judge with a ramblingÂ speech, claiming he had been railroaded. He spoke in mostly hushed tones, cryingÂ and trying to regain his composure at times. His voice quivered and his handsÂ were shaking as he reached out for a glass of water.
He aimed some of his anger at lead prosecutor James Glasgow, sayingÂ sarcastically that Glasgow could now celebrate because he had destroyedÂ Peterson’s life.
“You perpetrated the largest railroad job ever in this country,” PetersonÂ told him. Minutes later, Petersonchallenged Glasgow to look him in the eyes.Â Glasgow, who had been taking notes, laid down his pen, folded his arms andÂ looked straight back at Peterson.
“Never forget what you’ve done here,” Peterson said, gritting his teeth.
Peterson had divorced Savio a year before her death. His motive for killingÂ her, prosecutors said, was fear that a pending settlement would wipe him outÂ financially.
“We all got an opportunity to see a psychopath reveal himself in openÂ court,” Glasgow told reporters after Thursday’s hearing as he called Peterson aÂ “cold-blooded killer.”
Before Thursday, Peterson had never publicly showed concern about theÂ serious charges and the possible sentence he faced. The glib, cocky formerÂ police officer seemed to taunt authorities before his 2009 arrest, suggesting aÂ “Win a Date With Drew Contest” and then, after his arrest, “Win a Conjugal VisitÂ With Drew Contest.” More recently, his story inspired a TV movie starring RobÂ Lowe.
His personality loomed large over his trial, illustrated by crowds ofÂ bystanders gathered outside the courthouse in a circuslike atmosphere after hisÂ conviction last year, cheering as prosecutors walked by and shouting, “Loser.Â Loser. Loser,” at defense attorneys.
Savio’s family members told the judge Thursday that they hoped she wasÂ somehow watching the proceedings.
“I hope she is haunting him in his dreams,” said Henry Savio Jr., theÂ victim’s brother. “I hope … she is watching his descent into hell.”