By Erika Slife Tribune reporter
1:52 PM CDT, April 17, 2008
A Will County judge Thursday ordered the reopening of Kathleen Savio's estate in response to her family's request, paving the way for a wrongful death lawsuit against her ex-husband, Drew Peterson.
Judge Carmen Goodman also ruled that Peterson's uncle, James P. Carroll, will be removed as executor of Savio's estate, and that her father, Henry, and her sister, Anna Doman, be named the new executors.
Attorney Joel Brodsky, who represented Peterson and Carroll, said he planned to appeal the ruling. John Q. Kelly, one of the attorneys for the Savio family, said the wrongful death lawsuit would likely be filed within a couple of weeks.
Peterson, 54, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, is a suspect in the Oct. 28 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, then 23. Stacy's disappearance directed renewed attention to Savio's death, which occurred in March 2004, just weeks before her divorce settlement with Peterson was to be finalized.
Savio's death was initially ruled an accident by a coroner's jury. She had been found dead in an empty bathtub in her Bolingbrook home, her hair soaked with blood from a small gash on the back of her head. An autopsy determined the cause of death was drowning, and the medical examiner speculated that Savio -- who had numerous bruises on her body -- may have fallen in the tub and hit her head.
After Illinois State Police Special Agent Herbert Hardy testified at a Will County coroner's inquest that there did not appear to be anything criminal about Savio's death, the coroner's jury ruled it an accident. But from the time of her death, Savio's siblings have voiced their suspicions that Peterson was responsible.
In November, after Stacy was reported missing, State's Atty. James Glasgow filed a petition to exhume Savio's remains for a second autopsy, saying the circumstances of her death appeared to have been staged to conceal a homicide. In February, Glasgow announced that the new autopsy had determined her death was a homicide.
Peterson has not been charged in either case and maintains he is innocent.Although Savio and Peterson were officially divorced at the time of her death, the court had yet to approve a division of assets. When Savio died, her sons, under Peterson's guardianship, received $1 million from a life-insurance payment, according to court records. Peterson later received the proceeds from other life insurance policies, the profits from the sale of a bar they owned in Montgomery and profits on the sale of their home, all valued at more than $600,000, the records showed.
The Savio family has said it is not seeking money from the estate, but simply wants Savio's two sons, now teenagers, to receive the money they are entitled to.