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Dugan defense attacks expert
Psychologist's troubles could defuse evidence
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Brian J. Dugan

 

Jeanine Nicarico

 

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Published: 2/5/2008 12:16 AM

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In October 1986, imprisoned murderer Brian Dugan voluntarily took part in a state police psychologist's study of sexual predators.

It was one year after the former Aurora man began serving two life prison terms for two sex slayings, including that of a 7-year-old child.

Prosecutors want to use the old audio recordings to help them convict Dugan of a third crime -- the 1983 abduction, rape and murder of Jeanine Nicarico, 10, of Naperville.

But the defense team threw them a curveball Monday in challenging the psychologist's credentials. Lawyers called Robert Thorud a "fraud" and questioned his academic and professional history, according to a defense motion seeking to bar his testimony.

Defense attorney Steven Greenberg cited a 2004 Daily Herald investigation that found Thorud was never a licensed psychologist in Illinois and received his Ph.D. from an unaccredited California correspondence school, which the federal government called a "diploma mill."

At the time, Thorud was the CEO of a now-closed Rockford state youth home. He was replaced shortly after the Daily Herald probe uncovered a host of problems at the youth home.

Thorud held a temporary state license as a clinical professional counselor from July 1995 to September 1998, state records said. Authorities said he was never disciplined for any wrongdoing, and did not reapply for his license.

Thorud could not be reached for comment Monday. But in a 2004 interview he defended his credentials and education. He cited his work in Illinois government for 25 years, including state police hostage negotiations.

DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett said the issue of Thorud's credentials is irrelevant. Birkett argues the interviews are not part of any protected plea negotiations and, therefore, are fair game to the prosecution.

DuPage Circuit Judge George Bakalis set a Feb. 13 hearing on the issue.

Birkett said the prosecution didn't learn the audio recordings existed until 1996 and didn't receive them until December 2001, after an earlier defense attorney found the misplaced tapes.

Dugan does not name Nicarico, but he does make incriminating remarks, such as "when I did the others," according to court records. In one conversation, Dugan tells Thorud he'd like to talk about the Nicarico case, but he can't because he is not protected legally.

Dugan is serving two life prison terms for killing Melissa Ackerman, 7, in June 1985 in Somonauk -- a small town 25 miles southwest of Aurora -- and 27-year-old Geneva nurse Donna Schnorr in July 1984.

Birkett would pursue the death penalty if Dugan is convicted of Nicarico's Feb. 25, 1983, killing. The trial date has not been set, but prosecutors are pushing for it to be held by early 2009.

Dugan claimed sole responsibility for the Nicarico murder during those 1985 protected plea talks for the other two sex slayings, but prosecutors didn't pursue it because he'd only confess if his life was spared. They also didn't believe him.

Meanwhile, three other men were charged and later cleared, but not before two spent a decade on death row. Seven DuPage County law enforcement officials were acquitted of railroading one of the men. The county settled malicious prosecution lawsuits for $3.5 million.

Then, two years ago, in Nov. 29, 2005, prosecutors indicted Dugan for Nicarico's murder, citing, in part, improved DNA evidence -- semen and hair -- they said links him to Nicarico's rape.