Murder Of Ex-Wife Results In Loss Of Pension Benefits

Written on 10/08/2022
Will Aitchison

On May 7, 2009, Drew Peterson was charged with the first-degree murder of his former wife, Kathleen Savio, who had been found dead in her bathtub on March 1, 2004. Peterson was tried and convicted in 2012 and was sentenced to 38 years in prison.

From 1977 until his retirement on November 9, 2007, Peterson had been a police officer in the Bolingbrook Police Department in Illinois. On November 30, 2007, the Board of Trustees of the Bolingbrook Police Pension Fund (Board), granted Peterson a regular re­tirement. After Peterson was convicted, the Board voted to retain an attorney to investigate whether Peterson’s felony conviction would cause him to be divested from his retirement benefits.

Based on the results of that inves­tigation, the Board terminated Peter­son’s benefits, finding that Peterson used his specialized police training, skills, and abilities to plan and com­mit Savio’s murder. The Board found that prior to Savio’s murder, during a ride-along while Peterson was on duty, Peterson had offered Jeffrey Pachter, a former coworker, $25,000 “to take care of” Savio.

On the day Savio’s body was discovered, Peterson had called the locksmith, Robert Akin, Jr., on Akin’s personal cell phone to ask for a well­ness check on Savio. Peterson was in uniform when he met Akin at Savio’s door. Akin would not have performed the wellness check without a police officer or other person of authority present. Peterson requested profes­sional courtesy from one of the first responders, telling him that Savio was his ex-wife.

Also as a professional courtesy, Peterson was allowed to be present for the interview of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, which was conducted in their home. Peterson was interviewed in the lunchroom of the Bolingbrook Police Department. A few years after Savio’s death, but before Peterson had been charged with the murder, Peterson told Donna Badalamenti, a friend of Stacy Peterson’s aunt, that he was well-trained and could get away with murder.

The Illinois Court of Appeals upheld the termination of Peterson’s pension benefits. The Court’s decision turned on an Illinois statute providing that pension benefits may be termi­nated if an officer “is convicted of any felony relating to or arising out of or in connection with his or her service as a police officer.” The Court noted that there must be a “clear and specific connection between the fel­ony committed and the participant’s employment” to justify the forfeiture.

The Court easily found such a con­nection in Peterson’s case. The Court noted that “the Board concluded that Peterson’s scheme to murder Savio, the act of the murder, and Peterson’s attempts to conceal the murder were driven by his specialized knowledge from being a police officer and arose out of his duties as a police officer. Also, Peterson exploited his position as a police officer to secure access to the crime scene and his use of profes­sional courtesy was central to avoiding detection and prosecution. The Board found that there was a sufficient nex­us between the crime and Peterson’s service as a police officer for forfeiture of his pension.

“Considering the totality of the evidence presented to the Board, and its factual findings, we find that the Board’s conclusion that Peterson’s felony conviction was related to or connected to his service as a police officer was not clearly erroneous. The evidence indicates that Peterson killed Savio and then used his position to or­chestrate the discovery of her body and direct the investigation, all in order to avoid detection and prosecution.”

Peterson v. Board of Trustees, 2022 IL App (3d) 210100-U (Ill. App. 2022).

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