CHICAGO – Drew Peterson, charged in the death of his third wife and suspected in the disappearance of his fourth, soon might face another legal battle: a custody fight.
The ex-cop had two children with Kathleen Savio, whom he's accused of killing, and another two with Stacy Peterson, who has been missing since 2007. Drew Peterson's adult son Stephen announced Monday that he has taken custody of the children, but relatives of Savio and Stacy Peterson are looking into whether they can change that.
"We'd seen a lawyer a ways back and were told we'd have to wait until he was charged," said Pamela Bosco, a friend of Stacy Peterson who has acted as a spokeswoman for her family. "We have to go back to a lawyer and see what's available to us."
"It's an issue that's moved to the front burner," said Martin Glink, an attorney representing Savio's father and sister, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Peterson shortly before his arrest last week. He added, however, that he hasn't talked about the issue with his clients or anyone else in the Savio family.
Peterson, 55, is being held in lieu of $20 million bond as he awaits a hearing next week on first-degree murder charges in the 2004 death of Savio, who was found drowned in a dry bathtub, a gash to the back of her head.
He has two boys, ages 16 and 14, with Savio and a 5-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl with Stacy Peterson. Peterson has long maintained his innocence in Savio's death and Stacy Peterson's disappearance.
Stephen Peterson, Drew Peterson's son from a previous marriage, issued a statement Monday on behalf of his siblings, noting that they are staying with him.
"All of the children of Drew Peterson fully support their father and know that he is innocent of the charges against him. We know him better than anyone else in the world and we know he is not guilty," Stephen Peterson said.
Drew Peterson wanted his children to stay with his adult son, said Reem Odeh, the law partner of Joel Brodsky, Peterson's attorney, who has worked on Peterson's behalf.
After Peterson's arrest, the state's Department of Children and Family Services turned his children over to "relatives" they would not identify. The child welfare agency also investigated Stephen Peterson's home, Odeh said.
Chicago attorney Matthew Kirsh said the current custody arrangement may be hard to challenge.
"A parent whose rights have not been terminated has the right to designate a guardian in writing," Kirsh said.
After the Savio family filed the wrongful death lawsuit, Peterson appeared beside his teenage sons on CBS's "Early Show," during which the older boy defended his father and characterized his grandfather and aunt as virtual strangers.
"I don't remember meeting him," 16-year-old Thomas Peterson said of Henry Savio. "If he was walking down the street I wouldn't recognize him. And my aunt, I haven't seen in six years."
Jennifer Smetters, a family law attorney in Chicago who is not involved with the case, said if she represented a relative of either mother, she would advise seeking guardianship of all four children.
"The court needs to place the children in the home that would serve their best interests," Smetters said. "I would advise them to prepare their home to take all of the children. It's very important that these children don't go through any more upheaval."