In the three years and three months Drew Peterson has been locked up on charges he murdered his third wife, Kathleen Savio, he has only seen his children on a closed circuit video feed when they visit him in the Will County jail.
But Thursday, during a break in his trial, the younger of two sons born to the woman he has been charged with drowning stopped by to say hi.
The son, Kristopher Peterson, turned 18 Wednesday and is now old enough to sign papers to release his father from wrongful death lawsuit brought by his aunt and grandfather. And that's exactly what the teen did during a brief visit with his father in a Joliet courtroom.
"He was very happy to see his son," said courtroom artist Thomas Gianni, who was sitting next to Kristopher Peterson in the front row of the gallery.
Peterson's spirits were visibly buoyed by his son's visit, and Gianni said after he left Peterson was "bragging to other members of the defense team" about Kristopher's accomplishments.
Kristopher graduated high school this spring. He is continuing his education at Western Illinois University.
One of the attorneys representing Peterson, Joel Brodsky, said that Kristopher signed off on releasing his father and one of his father's uncles, James Carroll, from a wrongful death lawsuit filed against them in 2008.
Kristopher's older brother, Thomas Peterson, signed just such a release when he turned 18 two years earlier.
"The civil suit is done," Brodsky said.
But Martin Glink, the attorney representing Savio's sister, Anna Marie Doman, and father, Henry Savio, in the civil action, thinks otherwise.
"I know Mr. Brodsky has the opinion that it's over but I'm not sure I agree with that opinion," Glink said.
Glink explained that the wrongful death lawsuit is on hold until the conclusion of Peterson's murder trial. Once there is a verdict, the case file will be unsealed and Peterson will lose the Fifth Amendment protection he enjoys while facing criminal charges, Glink said.
After signing the paper and speaking with his father, Kristopher departed before the trial resumed. As a potential witness, he cannot be present while the trial is on progress. Also, graphic pictures of his mother's bloody, naked body curled dead in a bathtub have been shown on a large screen throughout the proceedings.
"You shouldn't be in here when they're showing pictures of mom," Peterson reportedly told his son. Kristopher nodded and left.
Before Kristopher's appearance, the one witness to testify Thursday took the stand.
Mary Parks, a friend and nursing school classmate of Savio, told of Savio looking like she "was in shock" when she came to class at Joliet Junior College one day in the fall of 2003.
After making it to class, Savio unzipped the high collar of her sweat shirt and revealed large, dark red marks on her neck, Parks said.
"There was a mark on either side of the neck and a mark in the middle, so there were three marks," Parks said, recalling how Savio let her know how she got them.
Savio, Parks said, "told me the evening before, she was coming down the stairs and her husband came into the house and he grabbed her by the neck and he pinned her down."
"Kathy told me, she said her husband told her, and I quote, she said that her husband said at that point, 'Why don't you just die?'"
Parks said she advised Savio to call the police and invited her move in with her family.
"I made an offer for her and her sons to come live in my home," Parks said, but Savio did not take her up on it.
Parks also recounted how Savio let her know "her husband, Drew Peterson, told her he could kill her and make her disappear" and that he did not want her getting anything in their pending divorce.
"She told me that he said he wants it all," Parks recalled. "He wants the children, he wants the house, he wants the businesses, he wants the money, he wants everything."
Parks also said Savio "was afraid that (Peterson) could do something to her and make it look like an accident."
Months later Savio was found drowned in her dry bathtub and her death did look like an accident—at least to the Illinois State Police who called off their investigation in short order. The state police were forced to reassess their investigation of Savio's death after Peterson's next wife, Stacy Peterson, mysteriously vanished in October 2007.
In 2004, while the state police still believed Savio was the victim of an accident, Parks said she called the Will County State's Attorney's Office to see what, if anything, was happening with her case.
"I was trying to determine if there was an investigation into Kathy's death," she said.
"I asked the person that answered the phone if I might speak to someone about Kathy Peterson," Parks said. "I was put on hold and transferred to another person. It was a woman who told me ... that was not under investigation at this time."
At the very beginning of the second round of questioning from defense attorney Steve Greenberg, Parks burst into tears. Judge Edward Burmila cleared the courtroom and gave Parks time to compose herself. Greenberg later accused Parks of faking.
"How could you believe anything that she said, and then when she thought she was in trouble, she started crying," Greenberg said.
Parks claimed Savio confided in her while they were taking a class together in the fall of 2003. Greenberg confronted Parks with both her college transcript and Savio's transcript and proved they did not have a common class during that time.
"There's no evidence they even knew each other," Greenberg said. Not to be outdone, Brodsky chimed in, saying, "She did commit perjury."
Brodsky also accused Parks and Savio of being "unhappy divorcees" "commiserating" and exagerating their circumstances.
In fact, Greenberg said, Savio invented her accounts of abuse at Peterson's hands so others would feel sorry for her.
"She's making up stories to get sympathy," he said.