Drew Peterson sentenced to 38 years in prison - FOX 35 News Orlando

Drew Peterson sentenced to 38 years in prison

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(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
JOLIET, Ill. (FOX 32 News) -

Drew Peterson -- the swaggering Chicago-area policeman who gained notoriety after his fourth wife vanished -- lost his characteristic cool in court Thursday, screaming out his innocence before a judge sentenced him to 38 years in prison for the murder of a previous wife.

"I did not kill Kathleen!" Peterson shouted, leaning into a courtroom microphone and emphasizing each of the five words.

Without missing a beat, his dead wife's sister, Susan Doman, shouted back, "Yes, you did! You liar!" before the judge ordered sheriff's deputies to remove her from the courtroom.

"When he blurted out that he didn't Kathleen it almost scared me to death, and I wasn't going to take the devil, I wasn't going to let him say that. And my reply was 'you're a liar and you did kill her,'" Savio's sister Susan Doman says.

Gone was the smiling Peterson who joked on the way into his first court appearance nearly four years ago.

"When he got up on the stand and that shrill kinda feminine screech that he didn't kill Kathy, that the guy that killed Kathy. You got a glimpse into his soul," Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow told reporters after the sentencing.

Illinois does not have the death penalty, and the 59-year-old Peterson had faced a maximum 60-year prison term. Judge Edward Burmila gave him four years' credit for time he has served since his 2009 arrest.

After starting his statement with the startling scream, Peterson went on for 30 more minutes, continuing in mostly hushed tones, crying and trying to regain his composure at times. His voice quivered and his hands were shaking as he reached for a glass of water.

"I loved Kathy. She was a good mom," he said, tearing up. "She did not deserve to die. But she died in an accident."

It was nearly nine years ago during her bitter divorce from Peterson that Kathleen Savio was found dead in a dry bathtub in what was initially ruled an accidental drowning. But in 2007, after Peterson's fourth wife Stacy disappeared, police reopened the Savio case. In 2009, they arrested Peterson and charged him with murder.

During his 35 minute statement, Peterson ripped prosecutors and state police for what he called the biggest railroad job in US history.

Fascination nationwide with Drew Peterson arose from speculation he sought to use his law enforcement expertise to get away with murder. Jurors convicted him of Savio's murder in September.

"I have never had such a gratifying experience in a courtroom than having a cold-blooded killer affirm our excellence," Glasgow said at a press conference.

"He was able to blow off steam, he's got a lot of anger over the years as he said, he told everybody how he felt," Peterson's attorney Joe Lopez said. "I think people could see where he was coming from and how he felt about what happened to him."

At times Thursday, Peterson seemed to wallow in self-pity, telling the judge that "America should be outraged (by the injustice of his conviction), but nobody cares." Other times, he seethed, blaming prosecutors for what he called "the largest railroad job ever."

He appeared to choke back tears as he talked about his kids and his three decade-long police career saying: "I can't believe I spent 32 years defending the constitution that allowed this to happen to me."

Peterson told Glasgow that the prosecutor could now celebrate because he had destroyed Peterson's life. Minutes later, Peterson challenged Glasgow to look him in the eyes. Glasgow, who had been taking notes, laid down his pen, folded his arms and looked straight back at Peterson.

"Never forget what you've done here," Peterson said.

Glasgow later told reporters about that moment, "I was thinking, `You're a cold-blooded murderer and I'll stare you down until I die."'

Peterson's attorney said their client has always maintained his innocence and said they would appeal.

"He didn't do anything," Peterson's attorney Steve Greenberg says. "They changed the rules to convict you, they changed the evidence, in this case hey brought in eight experts to redo autopsies to say what they wanted. They changed everything, how would you feel if you were railroaded?"

As Peterson wrapped up his plea before the judge, he complained about the life of hardship and abuse he would face in prison saying, "I don't deserve this."

Glasgow strongly disagreed, telling reporters later that "no one more richly deserves it than Drew Peterson."

Family members of both Kathleen Savio and Stacy Peterson also spoke out to the media shortly after Peterson was sentenced.

"I was hoping for at least 60 years of course," Savio's sister Sue Doman said. "I wasn't dissatisfied with 34 years because right away my thoughts were, he's going to be in his 90s, he's never gonna get out of here."

One by one, family members unloaded strong feelings for the man convicted of killing their sister.

"Drew Peterson deserves to stay in jail forever, to die there," Savio's brother, Henry, said. "I know my sister is here with us now. He's going to go to hell and my sister is going to be watching him."

Cassandra Cales, Stacy Peterson's sister, says she's seen the rage in Drew before. She saw that again in the courtroom minutes before he was sentenced.

"It's good to see him not in control because he likes to be in control and I think him showing himself today like he did it shows that it's affecting him or getting to him," Cassandra said. "So now it's coming to reality that he's going to be there for the rest of his life and it makes me feel good too."

Kathleen Savio's family agrees. The man they say needed to be in control has lost it.

"No, I'm in control now," Savio's other sister Anna Marie Doman stated. "He's the one going to jail, I'm in control. He loses, we win."

Before Thursday, Peterson had never publicly showed concern about the serious charges and the possible sentence he faced. The glib, cocky former police officer seemed to taunt authorities before his 2009 arrest, suggesting a "Win a Date With Drew Contest" and then, after his arrest, "Win a Conjugal Visit With Drew Contest." More recently, his story inspired a TV movie starring Rob Lowe.

Savio's family members told the judge they hoped she was somehow watching Thursday's proceedings.

"I hope ... she is watching his descent into hell," said Henry Savio Jr., the victim's brother. And he added about Drew Peterson, "I hope she is haunting him in his dreams."

Sister Anna Doman said she couldn't help thinking about what her sister went through in the moments before she died: "The horror and the betrayal she felt when she realized that someone she had trusted and loved more than anything was killing her."

Prosecutors had no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio's death and no witnesses placing him at the scene -- something Peterson alluded to in his statement. During last year's trial, they relied on typically barred hearsay -- statements Savio made to others before she died and that Stacy Peterson made before she vanished. Illinois passed a hearsay law in 2008 tailored to Drew Peterson's case, dubbed "Drew's Law," which assisted in making some of the evidence admissible.

The hearsay -- any information reported by a witness not based on the witness' direct knowledge -- included a friend testifying that Savio told her Peterson once put a knife to her throat and warned her, "I could kill you and make it look like an accident."

A turning point at the trial came when the defense called a divorce attorney who said he spoke to Stacy Peterson before she vanished. Rather than blunting her credibility, the witness stressed to jurors that Stacy Peterson seemed to truly believe her husband killed Savio.

Earlier Thursday, the judge denied a defense request to grant Drew Peterson a retrial. Peterson's current attorneys contended his former lead attorney, Joel Brodsky, botched the initial trial and had been the one to decide to call Smith to the stand. Brodsky stepped down from the defense team in November.

Prosecutors suspect Peterson killed his fourth wife because she could finger him for Savio's death. Peterson has maintained his fourth wife ran off with another man and is still alive.

Peterson's attorneys have said they might appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds Illinois' hearsay law is unconstitutional.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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