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Police balance public, legal concerns
By Alex Rodriguez and Terry Hackett | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/4/2009 5:03 PM | Updated: 8/4/2009 9:56 PM

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Originally published Jan. 11, 1993

As Palatine's grief over the slayings of seven employees at a fast-food restaurant continues to heighten, so does the cry for more information about who did it, how it was done, and why.

That anguish illustrates a frequent contradiction between two chief police functions: One, to offer reassurance to the public; another, to solve the crime.

In this case, Palatine police have remained extremely tight-lipped, refusing to discuss a motive for the slayings, whether the evidence indicates the crime was the work of one killer or a group; and if there is a suspect - even as they detained for a second day a fired employee taken in at gunpoint for questioning.

Balancing the public's desire to know with law enforcement's desire not to jeopardize the case is a tightrope police walk often, especially in highly publicized cases.

On the one hand, withholding information can foster anxiety among parents who want to know how and why their child was killed and among neighbors who may fear more acts of violence.

"We're still waiting," said Pedro Maldonado, brother of Guadalupe Maldonado, one of the seven employees slain over the weekend at Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine. "It's been a long time, and we're confused "

Yet, law enforcement authorities point out the public disclosure of a key nugget of information often can make it harder to charge and prosecute a suspect.

Hoffman Estates Police Chief Donald Cundiff confronted that quandary in 1991 when his detectives were tracking down a suspect in the grisly dismemberment murder of Gilda B. Wilkinson, 37.

Within 24 hours after her body was found, police discovered a journal that laid out how her husband, Mark Wilkinson, 36, planned to commit the murder - a discovery police officials kept to themselves. Three days after the murder, police arrested Wilkinson.

"We did not reveal he had this journal, because we didn't want him to see what we had," Cundiff said.

"It really is a tightrope," he added. "When I meet with my investigators, I ask them, 'Is it something I can release without jeopardizing the case?'"

Palatine police have released the names of the victims and general details about the weekend murders. But they have refused to answer questions about the possible motive or the method of the crime. And they have offered no details about the crime scene, such as the location of the fatal wounds, or what kind of gun was used, or if there was more than one gun.

"We are and we will continue to provide as much information as we can," Palatine Deputy Police Chief Walt Gasior said at a news conference Sunday. "(But) our primary responsibility is for the investigation and ultimately the prosecution of this case."

The restaurant slayings raise another complex issue: How long can police detain someone they are questioning?

Palatine police have detained Martin E. Blake, a former employee at the restaurant, according to a source familiar with the case. Blake was picked up outside his home in Elgin by police at about 3 p.m. Saturday. However, police have made no arrests.

Richard Stock, first assistant state's attorney for DuPage County State's Attorney James E. Ryan, said police can pick up someone for questioning, but if the person asks to leave, at that point police must decide whether to arrest him or let him go.

"The police can talk to you, but at any point you can say, 'I'm out of here,'" Stock said.

However, if the suspect has been picked up on an outstanding warrant for some unrelated crime, police lawfully can keep him detained, Stock said. That's because the warrant means he's already under arrest.

Some departments use a 48-hour limit as a "rule of thumb" for holding someone without filing charges, said noted defense lawyer Patrick Tuite. After 48 hours, they will decide whether to make an arrest.

However, Tuite added police should have a "pretty good reason" for keeping someone detained overnight without arresting them.

"There is no crime of suspicion,'' he said. "They either have probable cause or not."

James Mullenix, a seven-year veteran of the murder task force with the Cook County Public Defender's office, said defense attorneys often look closely at the circumstances involving the detention of a suspect. If there was a violation of his client's rights, the lawyer can expose those violations in court and possibly negate any confession made.

"The first thing you do is look at what the product of the detention was," Mullenix said. "Is there a confession? Did they get any kind of weapon? Did they get information that later leads to something else?"

Those valuable pieces for the prosecution can be thrown out of court if a defense attorney convinces the judge something about the detention period violated the suspect's rights, Mullenix said.