Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Opening arguments began on Monday in James Degorski's trial for the murder of 7 people at a Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant in Palatine, Illinois. Two years ago, Juan Luna, James Degorski's co-defendant, was convicted and sentenced to natural life without parole after a sole juror refused to endorse the death penalty. I have been paying close attention to this trial because I was the Palatine Task Force's scapegoat for those murders many years ago. It was I who was paraded in front of news reporters in 1993 as if I was the perpetrator, and I continued to be a suspect throughout my trial in 1995. Until Juan Luna and James Degorski were arrested in 2002, I was labeled the state's primary suspect.
I became a suspect in the Brown's Chicken murders after a former friend and roommate of mine, Bob Faraci, was arrested for a murder in Barrington, Illinois. He, and his wife, made up various stories to the police telling them that I was the one who committed the Palatine massacre. The stories were inconsistent, and not credible, but the Palatine Task Force and prosecutor's office were desperate to pin the blame on someone. The fact that the murders occurred in close proximity to one another, and a psychic working with police somewhat corroborated the shady couple's statements, gave the police and states attorney's office all they needed to infer to the public the case was solved. Unofficially, authorities told news media that there was no question that I had committed the murders, and the media ran wild with the story.
Despite declarations that the Palatine murders were solved, I was never indicted for those murders. Instead, the prosecutor gained an indictment against me as a party in the Barrington murder. Bob Faraci's wife testified to a grand jury. Hearsay testimony of Bob Faraci's statements were also allowed through police officers who questioned him. My interrogating officer also testified falsely that I admitted to being told by Bob Faraci that he was about to kill the victim, and I lent him my car that day.
Bob Faraci's wife eventually confessed, and said that she and her husband were lying, and were trying to frame me of the murders. After such a revelation, and collapse in the prosecutor's case, I expected charges against me to be dropped. However, after the prosecution had villianized me as the killer in the infamous Brown's Chicken murders, they were unwilling to admit error. Instead, I was prosecuted under a theory of accountability for lending my car to Faraci, and having foreknowledge of a pending murder. My trial attorneys did not refute the prosecution's case. Instead they told the jury that the interrogating officer's testimony was true, but that such action or inaction did not make me criminally responsibile for the murder committed by Bob Faraci. The jury disagreed, and I was found guilty.
I have no doubt that my suspicion in the Palatine massacre caused me not only to be wrongfully tried and convicted, but sentenced to natural life without parole. An appropriate sentence to being questionably, or marginally accountable, would be a minimal sentence. Contrarily, I was given the maximum sentence.
My trial judge was Samuel Amirante, the same man who as a public defender represented John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer who tortured and killed about 30 young men, and buried them in his yard and basement. My judge vigorously defended Gacy against receiving the death penalty, and argued for natural life, the same sentence he would later give me for lending my car. The trial judge ran for appellate justice soon after my trial, but lost the election. I must conclude his rulings, particularly the sentence in my case, were due to political ambitions.
Amazingly, even after Bob Faraci's wife came forward with the truth, people continued to connect my name and imprisonment with the Brown's Chicken murders. The media failed to report the truth, and it was not mentioned at my trial. Mrs. Faraci only testified to the lies she and her husband made up about the Barrington murder. When Juan Luna and James Degorski were finally arrested for the Brown's Chicken murders in Palatine, a number of inmates and a few guards expressed confusion over how I could still be in prison. I had to explain to them I was convicted in another murder case. I am bitter that neither the states attorney's office, the police, nor the media, has ever apologized for their mistakes in identifying and slandering my name in connection with the mass murders. I have more animosity toward them than the actual killers, who I never expected to come forward to exonerate me.
Juan Luna was sent to Stateville after his conviction in 2005. He was assigned a cell in the same cell house as I, but I never saw him before he signed himself into protective custody. Luna was initially harrassed when he arrived here, and I remember an incident where some guards brought him a tray of fried chicken with something satiric written on the tray. Luna was transferred to P.C. for a half year, but is now back at Stateville. He is in a different cell house, and I have yet been able to speak to the man. From what I am told, he does not come out of his cell often, and has changed his look. Luna now has a bald head.
I am paying attention to James Degorski's trial, as I did to Juan Luna's trial. There was overwhelming evidence produced against Luna. The most incriminating evidence came from his videotaped confession where he admits to slicing a woman's throat, and there was DNA evidence he left on the last meal to be ordered that night. Degorski does not have a videotaped confession nor is there any DNA linking him to the crime scene. However, two women have testified against him, and said that he and Luna admitted to the crime in very specific detail, including an unpublicized detail that one of the victims vomited french fries before dying. The women also testified that they took them to the crime scene while police and ambulances were still at the scene, and were given some of their profits from the robbery. The former girlfriend of Degorski also taped an incriminating phone conversation with police help. I expect prosecutors to call to the stand the interrogating officers next week, who will testify about Degorski's confessions to the murders. The alleged statements were oral, and not handwritten, signed, or videotaped, just as my alleged statements were not. But unlike my trial lawyers, I know his lawyers will fiercely attack the credibility of any such statements.
It has been difficult getting news coverage of Degorski's trial. I actually have to search for it on the local news stations, and when I find some news, it is only short segments. This is a huge contrast to my trial, where my trial was the lead story, and reporters talked about it for several minutes on all local TV news programs. I find it ironic that the news coverage is so disparate. I would expect the real killers should be given more media coverage, and be villianized more, but just the opposite has occurred. I suppose it is not about fairness of reporting, truth or justice, but the selling of TV advertising and newspapers. Possibly, after almost 17 years have passed, the Palatine Massacre just does not pull in as many viewers or readers.
I have two perspectives when I watch developments in the trial of James Degorski. On one hand, I believe he is guilty. I hope he is convicted, and given the same cruel punishment as I have. It is because of his and Juan Luna's actions that I was tried, convicted and given a protracted death sentence. It seems fair that he suffer the same fate, although he could never suffer such a great loss because I have been incarcerated since I was 18 years old. He was free during this time, and the best years of his life cannot be taken.
On the other hand, having been a suspect in the Palatine massacre, I have already walked the path he now follows, and I can understand what it is like to be a defendant in a high profile murder case. I also have a strong set of beliefs about the justice system which should not make him an exception. I want Degorski to have a fair trial with good defense counsel, an honest, apolitical, incorrupt prosecutor and an impartial judge who rules according to law, whether or not that will make him popular. I also want Degorski's jury to not have been prejudiced by the media, and for them to decide his fate by the standard of a reasonable doubt. Furthermore, I do not believe in natural life sentences. If Degorski is found guilty, he should be given death, or a maximum term of twenty years. Degorski did not fail me, nor did my lying, desperate co-defendant. The justice system did.