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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Drew Peterson will soon face wrongful-death suit, attorney for Kathleen Savio's family says

By Erika Slife and Matthew Walberg

Tribune reporters
April 17, 2008

Drew Peterson's legal team suffered defeats on two fronts Thursday, when one judge named new executors to the estate of his third wife, permitting her relatives to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against him, and another judge declined to order the return of his 11 guns.

Will County Judge Carmen Goodman determined that the finding of the most recent autopsy showing Kathleen Savio had been murdered in 2004 was enough reason for her estate to be reopened.

The judge replaced Peterson's uncle, James Carroll, as executor of the estate with Savio's father, Henry, and sister, Anna Doman.Henry Savio and Doman now have the power to file a wrongful-death suit against Peterson, 54, the former Bolingbrook police sergeant who is a suspect in his fourth wife's disappearance. Kathleen Savio was found dead in March 2004 in the bathtub of her Bolingbrook home weeks before their divorce settlement was finalized.

At the time, a coroner's jury ruled the death an accident, but authorities decided to take another look after Stacy disappeared Oct. 28. In February, State's Atty. James Glasgow announced that a new autopsy determined she had been murdered.

Peterson has not been charged in either case and maintains he is innocent.

John Kelly, a New York attorney representing the Savio family who was the lawyer for Nicole Brown Simpson's family in the successful civil suit against O.J. Simpson, said the wrongful-death case would be filed within a couple of weeks.

Joel Brodsky, representing Peterson and Carroll, said he planned to appeal Goodman's ruling.He argued in court that the Savios had two years under the statute of limitations to challenge the probate proceedings. Brodsky said he will base part of his appeal on that argument.

Attorneys for the Savio family argued their clients didn't have the grounds to file a challenge in probate court because Savio's death had been ruled accidental. And they didn't have the authority to proceed with a wrongful-death lawsuit because they were not the executors.

Reached after the hearing, Doman said the family didn't receive notification that Peterson's uncle had been made executor of Savio's estate. Since Savio died, her family has voiced its suspicions that Peterson may have been responsible.
Later in the afternoon, another judge blocked Peterson's efforts to force state police to return his eight long guns and three handguns seized from his home last fall in the investigation of Stacy's disappearance.
Brodsky filed a motion in December seeking the return of Peterson's firearms, vehicles and other items taken through a series of search warrants. In February, Judge Richard Schoenstedt ordered the return of all the items, including the firearms—provided Peterson had a valid Firearm Owners Identification Card.
After the order, state police revoked his card. This month Brodsky suggested the weapons be placed in the custody of Peterson's adult son, Stephen, an Oak Brook police officer.
But Thursday, with Stephen Peterson in the gallery, Schoenstedt said Peterson's reasons for wanting his weapons returned were not compelling enough to override the right of police to hold potential evidence in a criminal investigation.
He noted Peterson offered no argument for the return other than it is his personal property, and Peterson and his lawyers have not expressed a desire to sell the guns or do anything with them that necessitates their return from police custody.
The judge left open the possibility Peterson may find a reason that could reverse his decision."If you find a specific reason why Mr. Peterson wants these guns transferred, I will be willing to reconsider the motion," Schoenstedt said.
Brodsky said his client would now transfer ownership of the weapons to his son, rather than just give them to him for safekeeping."Put it in writing," Schoenstedt responded.

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