JOLIET, Ill. – The fourth wife of former Illinois police officer Drew Peterson was sure her husband would kill her, even telling a neighbor days before her disappearance in 2007 that "I'm already dead," according to testimony at a hearing on Monday.
The neighbor sobbed uncontrollably at times as she spoke during the hearing meant to determine what, if any, "hearsay" evidence prosecutors can use during Peterson's upcoming trial on charges he murdered his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004.
Sharon Bychowski told the court that she found Stacy Peterson, then 23, crying outside her suburban Chicago home. She explained how she had packed 10 boxes of Drew Peterson's clothes and asked her husband, 30 years her senior, to leave. But he'd refused.
"She said, 'If I disappear, Sharon, it's not an accident. He killed me,"' a visibly shaken Bychowski testified.
As Stacy Peterson described how she feared for her life, Bychowski advised her to put what she was saying in writing.
"It doesn't matter," Bychowski said Peterson told her. "I'm already dead. He's going to kill me."
At one point, the judge called a brief recess to allow Bychowski to regain her composure.
Peterson has pleaded not guilty in Savio's 2004 death. Officials exhumed her body and ruled her death a homicide only after Stacy Peterson vanished three years later. He hasn't been charged in her disappearance, but authorities say he's the only suspect.
Peterson, wearing a suit and sporting a full beard, listened attentively during Monday's proceedings — occasionally leaning to consult with his attorneys.
The focus of the pre-trial hearing, now in its second week, is the possible use of "hearsay" evidence in the Savio case.
Hearsay, or statements not based on the direct knowledge of a witness, usually isn't admissible in court. Illinois judges can allow it in murder trials if prosecutors prove a defendant may have killed a witness to prevent them from testifying. There's little available forensic evidence in Savio's case, so prosecutors are expected to rely on statements Savio allegedly made to others saying she feared Peterson could kill her.
But Bychowski is the latest witness to testify at length about Stacy Peterson.
She testified Monday that Stacy Peterson, despite expressing fears for her own life, never said anything about Savio's death or that she may have suspected Drew Peterson of killing Savio. Drew Peterson and Savio had divorced, and he had already married Stacy Peterson before Savio died.
Bychowski also testified that Stacy Peterson talked at length about her intention to divorce Peterson.
"She didn't love him anymore," Bychowski said. She added that, for Stacy Peterson, "having sex with him made her skin crawl."
Drew Peterson tried to dissuade his young wife from leaving by showering her with gifts, including a motorcycle and a ring, as well as by paying for breast enhancement surgery, Stacy Peterson allegedly told Bychowski. But holding up the ring at one point, she said, "'He thinks he's going to keep me. No way,"' Bychowski recalled.
Drew Peterson was so possessive of Stacy, he even installed a satellite GPS tracking system in her cell phone to monitor her movements by computer, Bruce Zidarich — a then-boyfriend of Stacy Peterson's sister, Cassandra Cales — also testified Monday.
In the initial investigation into Savio's 2004 death, retired Illinois State Police Sgt. Patrick Collins also testified last week that he never considered the possibility of murder. He said he never collected any forensics evidence from the home where her body was found in a bathtub.