Monday, February 3, 2014

Hang around Chicago long enough, and even the outlandish becomes common

It’s not every day that a man who is both the namesake grandson and nephew of Chicago mayors enters a “guilty” plea to a criminal charge related to the death of another human being.

KOSCHMAN: Will his memory now rest?
Yet there was something about the plea entered in a Rolling Meadows-based courtroom by R.J. Vanecko that seemed so similar to a criminal case from a quarter-century ago. It makes me wonder how long until we again get a connected defendant who catches a break when forced to face the criminal justice system.

FOR THE RECORD, Richard Joseph Vanecko (whose mother was a daughter of Richard J. Daley and an older sister to Richard M.) entered the guilty plea – rather than go to trial in a case that could have began later this month.

He got a 60-day jail sentence, along with some additional time wearing an ankle bracelet meant to confine him to his home. He’ll also get a 30-month probation period.

Let’s be honest. If his name weren’t tied into the Daley family tree, he wouldn’t have gotten off so easily. Because there is a man who has been dead for a decade,

I’m sure some will argue that true injustice would have been if his case wasn’t resurrected. Cook County prosecutors originally didn’t want to touch the incident when it actually occurred.

IT TOOK THE attention-drawing efforts of the Chicago Sun-Times, along with a special prosecutor and a judge called in from suburban McHenry County, to get to the point we’re at right now.

All of this reminds me of a criminal case I covered back when I was a “City News Kid” reporter-type some 25 years ago.

VANECKO: Paying debt to society?
It was a case involving two early-20s-type men who had been drinking heavily in a Clearing neighborhood (near Midway Airport) tavern. They got hostile, and one man beat the other to death with a baseball bat when he thought the other was reaching for a pistol of some sort.

Actually, the man was reaching for a tire iron, so perhaps he had the same intention of administering a beating with a deadly weapon.

WHICH IS WHY that man ultimately got a two-month sentence in the Cook County Jail. In fact, what I remember from the case is that after they took into account the amount of “time served” right after his bond hearing but before he could come up with the money to be released from jail, the actual amount of time he still had to serve was all of two weeks before he could start getting on with the rest of his life. While the victim remains dead some 25 years later!

DALEY: What would namesake think?
Oh, the other thing about this case was that the defendant was the son of a Chicago police Violent Crimes detective based at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue.

A cop’s kid managed to do something stupid that caused the death of someone else. That’s not to the same degree of public attention as Richard J. Vanecko got. But it is still enough to gain attention, which is why I covered that particular story back in the days when I covered the Criminal Courts building on a regular basis.

I also recall the judge from that particular case. Thomas Maloney, who later was charged, and convicted, of allegations that he took bribes to fix the results of murder cases.

I DON’T HAVE any evidence that the cop kid’s case was in any way fixed. Although I still remember the day the kid was sentenced as being the closest I ever came to being found in contempt of court by a judge. He threatened me with arrest because he didn't like my whispering to a reporter-type who was sitting next to me.

I’m sure that Maloney was aware of every single reporter-type person who was in the courtroom, and was looking for even the slightest excuse he could think of in order to have us removed.

Because our accounts of the verdict and sentence could stir up public resentment (I still recall the mother of the victim complaining that her son couldn’t get true justice). Unless the judge were to impose a harsh sentence.

In which case, he’d make enemies within the Police Department.

BUT BACK TO Vanecko, who is now in the early days of serving his sentence – which, to my sensibilities, is the quirky part of this whole case.

Because the special judge was brought in from McHenry County, Judge Maureen McIntyre sentenced him to serve the time in her county’s jail.

Vanecko will be up in northwest suburban Woodstock for a couple of months. While that’s not a jail facility anyone chooses to go to, it is less onerous than the Cook County Jail complex.

And definitely a lot easier to cope with than one of the facilities in the Illinois Department of Corrections system – which are so crowded they’re probably grateful not to have to deal with Vanecko.


EDITOR’S NOTE: I also was amused to see just how quickly former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s illness and hospitalization this week was in no way a reaction to learning that his nephew now has a criminal record.

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