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Drew Peterson murder trial set to begin this week
CHICAGO -- One relative of Drew Peterson's long-missing fourth wife calls him a dog who deserves to be chained. The boorish, motorcycle-loving ex-police officer on trial in the death of his third wife makes unsavory comments about his alleged victims' families, calling some money-grubbers. He points out one relative's criminal history.
Opening statements are slated for Tuesday in the long-delayed trial of Peterson, a 58-year-old former suburban Chicago police sergeant who was charged in 2009 with murdering his 40-year-old third wife, Kathleen Savio. Peterson was charged in Savio's 2004 death only after his 23-year-old fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished in 2007.
Acrimony between Drew Peterson and relatives of his third and fourth wives has swirled for years. That Peterson began dating then-17-year-old Stacy Cales when he was still married to Savio heightened the tension. And there were the comments he made before his arrest: jokes about a "Win A Date With Drew" contest, suggestions that Stacy's threats of divorce coincided with her menstrual cycle and discussion of appearing on a reality TV show about a Nevada brothel.
Drew Peterson is a suspect in Stacy Peterson's disappearance but has not been charged. Stacy Peterson's family hopes a conviction in Savio's death could change that. Her younger sister, Cassandra Cales, said Drew Peterson's braggadocio may eventually prompt him to spill his secrets in prison.
"Drew's a showoff," Cales, now 27, said in a recent interview. "I am sure he will talk if he gets a prison buddy, Bubba, and tell him what he did to Stacy."
Many Savio family members are potential witnesses, so they can't speak publicly about the case. But Cales has not been subpoenaed to testify.
"I barely sleep at night," said Cales, who plans to attend the trial. "What keeps me up is the anxiousness of getting through with it -- and getting him convicted."
Savio's death was initially ruled an accident, and it was Stacy Peterson's 2007 disappearance that prompted officials to exhume Savio's body. Prosecutors say Drew Peterson killed Savio because he feared their divorce settlement would wipe him out financially. They believe he killed Stacy Peterson, whose body has never been found, in part to keep her from talking about what she knew about Savio's death. Peterson has denied involvement in Savio's death or his fourth wife's disappearance.
The bitterness between Peterson and his former wives' relatives has often played out in the media.
When Peterson appeared on a talk show on Chicago's WLS-AM radio in 2009 to declare his innocence, Cales called in to confront him. Cursing, she told him, "You murdered my sister. ... You will pay."
After his arrest months later, Cales delighted in seeing him shackled at his arraignment. "It made me feel good to see him chained up like the dog that he is," she told reporters.
Peterson has tried to paint Stacy Peterson's family as dysfunctional. He has alluded to the checkered background of Stacy Peterson's brother, who spent time in prison for a sex offense. He also has mentioned how Stacy Peterson's biological mother, Christie Cales, disappeared in 1998.
Joel Brodsky, Drew Peterson's lawyer, said that is relevant to Stacy's disappearance.
"In her world, mothers run off and leave," he said. "To you, it is not an acceptable behavior, but in her world it is. Her mother did it."
Cales said she and her sister always believed their mother was killed, not that she abandoned them.
As far as Savio's family, her father and sister filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2009, alleging Peterson went to Savio's house on Feb. 28, 2004, to "brutally ... stalk, attack, repeatedly beat, then drown (her)." Savio's body was found slumped forward in a dry bathtub, her hair soaked in blood.
Peterson shot back in comments to the Chicago Sun-Times, saying about the Savios, "They're up to their money-grubbing tricks again."
Last year, one of Savio's brothers wrote an open letter complaining that too much attention was directed at Peterson, rather than to Savio.
"I want to hear something about my sister that does not involve, include or revolve around Drew Peterson or his family," Henry Savio wrote.
"People that knew her loved her," he continued. "People that did not know her, noticed her."
Another issue involves Drew Peterson's children, two from his third marriage and two from his fourth. Both families have suggested Peterson has denied them access to the children out of spite.
Brodsky said one concern about Stacy Peterson's family is the brother's criminal history. "As far as the Savio family, (Kathleen's) boys are free to see them if they want," he said, noting that relations were cool even during the couple's marriage. "Drew's not some Svengali guru sending messages to the boys (now both around 18) telling them not to see the Savios."
Drew Peterson began dating Stacy when she was working as a clerk at a hotel he dropped into while on patrol for the Bolingbrook police. He married her shortly before Savio's death.
Those who know Savio have described her anguish when she learned about the affair. She later claimed that Drew and Stacy Peterson, who lived blocks away from her, would rollerblade by her house to taunt her. Stacy, she said, would sometimes drive by and make rude gestures out her car window.
Cassandra Cales said the bad behavior was mutual, saying her sister told her Savio would also curse her. "Savio was a grieving wife who lost her husband to a 17-year-old," Cales said.
Today, there's no hint of animosity between the two families, Cales insisted. They share not only grief but a common goal: to see Drew Peterson sent to prison for life.
"We support them and they support us," she said.
Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm