JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Drew Peterson showed nearly no emotion during his trial, yet the once famously jocular ex-Illinois police officer screamed out his innocence before he was sentenced to 38 years in prison for his third wife's death in an outburst that suggested reality may be settling in.
"I did not kill Kathleen!" Peterson shouted as he leaned into a courtroom microphone Thursday, 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.
For years, Peterson casually dismissed and even joked about suggestions he killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004, or that he was behind the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson.
His sudden explosion of fury Thursday as he stepped up to address the judge who would sentence him for Savio's death left spectators gasping. Lead state prosecutor James Glasgow said it exposed the real Drew Peterson — the one more than capable of murder.
"We all got an opportunity to see a psychopath reveal himself in open court," Glasgow told reporters shortly after Thursday's hearing. "That shrill ... screech. ... That's the guy that killed Kathy."
"It was scary," Doman added later. "This is what my sister had to go through."
It was a climax in a long-running drama that has played out in the media amid speculation that Peterson sought to use his law enforcement expertise to get away with murder.
Savio's death was initially ruled an accident after her body was found jammed into a dry bathtub at her home, a gash on the back of her head and her hair soaked in blood. It was Stacy Peterson's 2007 disappearance that prompted authorities to take another look and eventually reclassify Savio's death as a homicide.