The stepbrother of a former Illinois police officer accused of killing his third wife told a hushed courtroom Thursday that he helped Drew Peterson carry a large blue barrel that he now fears may have held the body of his relative's fourth wife.
Thomas Morphey testified at a hearing to decide whether prosecutors can use "hearsay" evidence to try to prove allegations that Drew Peterson killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. Peterson hasn't been charged in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, but authorities say he is the only suspect.
While the Will County hearing is about the death of Savio, Thursday's testimony focused on the day Stacy Peterson disappeared.
In a packed but quiet courtroom, Morphey said Peterson suggested when they talked on Oct. 27, 2007, that he intended to kill Stacy because she planned to divorce him, win custody of their children and take Peterson's money.
Morphey said he drank heavily the next day.
"I just heard someone was going to murder somebody else," Morphey explained.
Peterson brought Morphey back to his Bolingbrook home, went into a master bedroom and rolled out a large blue barrel that Morphey estimated weighed up to 150 pounds.
"He had me grab an end, he grabbed the other end and we proceeded down the stairs," Morphey testified. "It felt warm."
Morphey stopped short of saying that Peterson directly admitted murdering Stacy and he said the two men never talked about what was in the barrel. Earlier in the day, Morphey testified he had told Peterson that he always assumed he had killed Savio, but that Peterson denied it.
Body found in bathtub
Savio's body was found in an empty bathtub in her home in 2004. Her death had initially been ruled an accidental drowning — until Stacy Peterson's disappearance led officials to exhume Savio's body, conduct another autopsy and conclude Savio was the victim of a homicide.
The story of the blue barrel has been central in Stacy Peterson's case. Numerous search parties over the years, including divers, have focused on finding it, but it has never turned up.
In court, Morphey said he had not wanted to go with Peterson, in part because he didn't want anything to do with what Peterson did. Morphey did not explain why he agreed to help him.
According to his testimony, the two men took the barrel, put it in Peterson's SUV and Peterson drove Morphey home.
"'He said, 'This never happened,'" Morphey testified. "I said, 'I won't tell a soul.'"
Nevertheless, Morphey said he later told his girlfriend, brother and a neighbor. He said he was stressed out, nervous and drinking more than normal.
Morphey said he didn't contact the authorities because he wasn't sure the incident would be handled fairly due to Peterson's job.
"He was a police officer," Morphey said. "I thought, 'What would be the point of calling 911?'"
‘I'm still scared to death’
Morphey said his fear led him to overdose on the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in an attempt to end his life.
"I felt everything was coming down on me," he said. "I'm still scared to death."
In a cross-examination, Peterson's attorneys raised questions about Morphey's mental state and whether was a credible witness.
Morphey suffers from a bipolar disorder and has admitted to drinking too much as well as having problems with drugs. On Thursday prosecutors presented evidence that buttressed what Morphey said happened. That included video footage and witness interviews showing that both men made a trip to Starbucks around the time of the alleged blue barrel incident.
Peterson's stormy marriage with Savio was mentioned Thursday in afternoon testimony.
A son from Peterson's first marriage to Carol Brown described watching Peterson in 1993 dragging Savio into the house by her hair.
"She was screaming for help," said Eric Peterson, who described Savio as drunk. "He was pulling her down the stairs."
Eric Peterson, who once spent weekends with Savio and Peterson, has been estranged from his father since 1993.