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The crime and the aftermath
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Published: 8/2/2009 12:01 AM

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Jan. 8, 1993: Seven people murdered in a Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine. Victims are owners Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt; two high school students, Michael Castro and Rico Solis; and three men, Guadalupe Maldonado, Thomas Mennes and Marcus Nellsen. Their bodies are discovered after worried family members call Palatine police to report they did not come home from work.

Jan. 9, 1993: Palatine police start the largest investigation to date in the village, setting up a toll-free tip line, calling in investigators from other jurisdictions and scouring the restaurant, including the roof and garbage.

­• Police arrest former Brown's worker Martin Blake at his Elgin home, raiding it in search for possible clues.

Jan. 10, 1993: Police release Martin Blake after two days of questioning. Blake later sues Palatine for false arrest. Nine years later, Blake is cleared of suspicion.

Jan. 12, 1993: Memorial services or visitations are held for Guadalupe Maldonado, Lynn and Richard Ehlenfeldt, Rico Solis and Michael Castro.

Jan. 13, 1993: Services or visitation are held for Thomas Mennes and Marcus Nellsen.

­• Police investigate possible links between the Palatine murders and armed robberies in towns including Addison, Mundelein, Des Plaines and Arlington Heights. Police focus on the theory that more than one person committed the crimes.

Jan. 14, 1993: Palatine holds an interfaith memorial service for residents to remember the seven killed.

­• The task force working on the case stands at more than 60 people, including FBI agents and officers from other suburban departments. A week after the murders, police are sorting through more than 1,150 tips and leads.

Jan. 15, 1993: Police arrest five men in connection with the murders, but quickly release all but one, who was held on an unrelated charge. The five had nothing to do with the Brown's Chicken murders, police said.

Jan. 18, 1993: In Washington, D.C., for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins holds a news conference pushing for immediate passage of the Brady gun control bill, which requires a waiting period before handgun purchases and a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons.

Jan. 25, 1993: Reward offered in the killings reaches $100,000.

March 3, 1993: Police end their search for evidence at the restaurant and turn the building's keys over to the Ehlenfeldt's daughters, starting a debate over what to do with the building.

July 2, 1993: Family members of some of the victims hang signs in the Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant windows reading "Who killed 7 people 6 months ago and why?"

Jan. 6, 1994: The Brown's Chicken and Pasta signs are taken down.

Jan. 8, 1994: One year passes with no one charged.

February 1994: Palatine police search for links between the Brown's Chicken slayings and the murders of four employees at a Taco Bell in Clarksville, Tenn.

March 21, 1994: Palatine police arrest a Chicago man as a suspect, but then release him.

Jan. 8, 1995: Two years pass with no one charged.

April, 1995: A new Brown's Chicken and Pasta quietly opens in a new location in Palatine, this one with a state-of-the-art security system the franchise owner claims rivals a bank's security. "We're happy to be back," said Frank Portillo, president of the Brown's chain.

­• Former FBI investigator James F. Bell is brought in by Palatine police. He worked on the cases involving Florida serial killer Ted Bundy and the Green River murders of 49 prostitutes in the Pacific Northwest.

May 1995: The family of Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt agrees to pay $57,000 to John Gregornik, who owned the Brown's building. Gregornik sued the three daughters of the slain franchise owners, saying they should have reopened the restaurant.

Jan. 8, 1996: Seven people now work on the Palatine task force investigating the murders. "I don't know when, but it will be solved," says Palatine Police Chief Jerry Bratcher, who headed the task force investigating the murders.

Jan. 29, 1996: Psychic Patricia Mischell tours the crime scene, now a dry cleaners, for a Jerry Springer episode titled, "Psychics at the Scene." She says there were one or two killers, the murders were "an inside job" and the killer was nicknamed "Jay" with a last name that sounds like "Latchkey."

Jan. 8, 1997: Four years pass with no one charged.

February and March 1997: Palatine investigators look into links to murders at a Captain D's restaurant and a McDonald's in Nashville. The suspect in those murders, Paul Dennis Reid, is cleared of involvement in the Palatine crimes but convicted and sentenced to death for killing five at the two Nashville restaurants.

May 10, 1997: The search for the Palatine killers is featured on the "America's Most Wanted" TV show.

June 1997: Palatine settles with Martin Blake in his unlawful arrest case.

Nov. 1997: Northwest suburban police departments announce they will band together to form MCAT, the Major Case Assistance Team. The multijurisdictional team sends top investigators to work on murders and other high-level crime in the Northwest suburbs.

Nov. 18, 1997: Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins says she plans to ask the Illinois State Crime Commission to review the Better Government Association's pending report on the murder investigation.

Nov. 20, 1997: The Better Government Association releases "Patent Malarkey: Public Dishonesty and Deception," a scathing critique of the police work in the Brown's Chicken murder investigations. Palatine village and police officials decry the report's contents. The Illinois State Crime Commission later counters with a report praising the Brown's investigation.

Jan. 8, 1998: Five years pass with no one charged.

August 1998: Joy McClain, friend of victim Marcus Nellsen, begs a Palatine village committee to tear down the Brown's building, now vacant again.

Jan. 8, 1999: Six years pass with no one charged.

Jan. 8, 2000: Seven years pass with no one charged.

Jan. 8, 2001: Eight years pass with no one charged.

April 27, 2001: The building that once housed the Palatine Brown's Chicken and Pasta is torn down. "God bless their souls," General Contractor Ted Avgoustis says of the seven victims before beginning demolition.

Jan. 8, 2002: Nine years pass with no one charged.

May 8, 2002: Palatine police link Juan Luna's DNA to DNA found on a chicken dinner saved from the restaurant in 1993.

May 16, 2002: Finally, a break. Police officers arrest Juan Luna at a Carpentersville gas station and James Degorski near Indianapolis following a renewed investigation that began with a tip from a former girlfriend of Degorski's. Luna and Degorski were friends at Fremd High School in the early 1990s. Luna is taken to Hoffman Estates police department where he makes a video statement explaining the roles he and Degorski played in the murders. Degorski is taken to the Streamwood police station where he begins to make a video statement, but stops shortly after the camera rolls.

July 3, 2002: Luna and Degorski plead not guilty to charges they murdered seven people.

July 3, 2002: Cook County Judge Vincent Michael Gaughan is assigned the Luna and Degorski cases.

April 28, 2004: Gaughan rules Luna and Degorski are eligible for death sentences if convicted.

Oct. 13, 2004: Luna and Degorski get separate trials. All pretrial court appearances continue simultaneously for both, however.

July 19, 2005: Gaughan rules jurors will watch the 43-minute video Luna made while in custody explaining his role in the murder, a key piece of evidence against him. Defense attorneys argued it was coerced by police through physical abuse and false promises of freedom.

March 1, 2006: What prosecutors say is a partial palm print from Luna lifted from the crime scene will be allowed as evidence at trial, Gaughan says.

May 3, 2006: Gaughan sets Sept. 12, 2006, as the start of Juan Luna's trial. Prosecutors initially asked for Sept. 11, the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. Luna defense attorneys derided that request as "cute."

July 2006: Gaughan falls from a ladder while repairing a skylight in his home and is out of the courtroom for weeks. The trial is pushed back.

March 28, 2007: Jury selection begins in the Juan Luna trial.

April 13, 2007: Opening statements begin in Luna's trial.

May 10, 2007: Luna found guilty on all seven counts.

May 18, 2007: Jury decides against the death penalty for Luna. He is sentenced to life in prison.

Oct. 5, 2007: Gaughan rules that a videotaped statement in which Degorski acknowledges a role in the killings cannot be used in Degorski's trial.

March 30, 2008: An appellate panel overrules Gaughan, saying jurors will be able to hear a portion of the videotaped statement by Degorski. In it, Degorski answers, "Right" after a prosecutor states that Degorski and Luna planned the robbery and that Degorski shot two of the victims and Luna shot five.

May 5, 2009: Gaughan sets jury selection for Degorski's trial for Aug. 6, with opening arguments scheduled for Aug. 31.

Source: Daily Herald files