When it comes to the death penalty in Illinois, it has never failed to amaze me the degree to which people can talk tough but then hesitate when actually confronted by it.
What brings this to mind is my personal experience from when I was a full-time reporter-type person who (for one year) covered courts full-time.
I COVERED COUNTLESS criminal cases where a defendant was up for a death sentence. Yet in all but one case, the jury wound up going for the alternate of a life prison term.
Only once did I ever get to see a Cook County judge go through the ritual of reading a death warrant, culminating in that ever-eerie line, “May God have mercy on your soul.”
Of course, the whole concept of a death warrant being read is anti-climactic because of the amount of legal appeals that every single death row inmate is entitled to. There’s also the fact that Illinois still has a moratorium on executions, meaning that the 15 people now on death row aren’t in any danger of having execution dates scheduled no matter what happens.
My point in reciting all this is that I wasn’t all that surprised last week when one of the criminal defendants in the so-called “Brown’s Chicken Massacre” did not receive a death sentence – despite the fact that many people would view the slaying of seven people at a fast-food franchise in suburban Palatine as one of those extremely heinous crimes that warrants a heinous punishment.
SO JAMES DEGORSKI and Juan Luna both are now inmates within the Illinois Department of Corrections. They’re likely never to be released from prison. Considering their age, they could easily have another three or four decades of life.
Then again, considering prison conditions, their lives could be over soon. Who’s to say?
For those people with an interest in the death penalty and its application in this country, we’re going to get a similar tale in coming days out in suburban DuPage County.
Because that is where Brian Dugan is trying to ensure that he doesn’t have to move from a cell in the general population to one in the extra-secure hall where death row inmates are kept.
I COULDN’T HELP but notice the news coverage as officials of both “sides” presented their case.
Dugan is now claiming he may have once been a victim of John Gacy, the serial killer who was put to death in 1994. Perhaps he hopes that he can sway at least one person into thinking that he deserves some sympathy (similar to how Degorski’s mother testified at his sentencing hearings that his father helped twist James and his other sons sexually with the behavior he permitted around the house when the kids were growing up).
But the prosecution countered that by putting the parents of Jeanine Nicarico, who was 10 years old when she was abducted and killed and would be 36 now, on the stand.
We the public got to hear tales of how the Nicarico family was devastated by losing their daughter, and how they have yet to recover from the act – which Dugan has hinted at committing for years, but has always tried to avoid a death sentence.
HE’S ALREADY DOING life-prison terms for the slayings of other young girls in the distant suburbs back in the 1980s.
His current action was designed to get people to quit speculating about his tie to Jeanine’s death, while not adding to his overall punishment. When one is already doing multiple life prison terms, what is one more?
But the people who for decades have been determined to get a death sentence for the Nicarico crime are equally determined to make sure that a life prison term is not the end result.
So when this case finally goes to the jury sometime next month (testimony resumes at DuPage County court on Wednesday), it will be curious to see.
WILL DUGAN BE the victim of John Gacy? Or is he going to be the monster who devastated the Nicarico family’s lives (Jeanine’s father last week said Dugan is the “boogeyman” come to life)?
It will be curious to see which side can most overwhelm the impression of the jury. Will Dugan fall in that majority of criminals who are found eligible for execution but ultimately get a life prison term?
Or will he fall into the minority – becoming inmate number 16 on Death Row in Illinois?
EDITOR’S NOTES: Jurors who hold out against death sentences during deliberations can (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-death-penalty-holdouts-25-bdoct25,0,806297.story) face pressure (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-death-penalty-illinois-25-bdoct25,0,3895676.story) to go along with the majority.
“Too late for sympathy or remourse,” was the words from the mother of Jeanine Nicarico when she spoke (http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=7080373) briefly last week.