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Eight jurors impaneled in Brown's case
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff

James Degorski's Palatine Police Department 2002 arrest photo


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Published: 8/11/2009 4:04 PM | Updated: 8/11/2009 9:18 PM

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After a morning session that included a bit of fireworks and the dismissal of seven prospective jurors, Tuesday's afternoon jury selection resulted in eight jurors being impaneled to hear evidence in the case of the People of the State of Illinois v. James Degorski.

The jury will include a 19-year-old college student who said he would miss classes to serve on the jury, a stay-at-home-dad originally from Paris, a young man studying massage therapy, a Vietnam War veteran who said he thinks the death penalty is sometimes justified, and a retiree who listens to WLS radio and said the last book he read was Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged."

The three women selected to serve on the jury include a 30-year employee of the Department of Children and Family Services, a soft-spoken twentysomething who said she heard some things about the murders but didn't know too much about the case, and a domestic violence survivor who stated that should the trial proceed to the sentencing phase, she would not "go along with the crowd" even if she were the sole dissenting voice.

"I believe what I believe," she said.

They are among the jurors who will hear testimony concerning Degorski's involvement in the murder of Michael Castro, Lynn and Richard Ehlenfeldt, Guadalupe Maldonado, Thomas Mennes, Marcus Nellsen and Rico Solis.

Degorski, 36, is charged with first-degree murder in the 1993 slayings at a Palatine Brown's Chicken & Pasta owned by the Ehlenfeldts. Degorski's co-defendant, Juan Luna, was convicted of the murders in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison.

About midmorning, Cook County Judge Vincent M. Gaughan and lead defense attorney Mark Levitt engaged in a heated discussion out of earshot of the potential jurors. Gaughan said that on several occasions the defense's questions seemed to confuse potential jurors.

The defense asked several of them the following question: If they unanimously agreed the defendant was guilty of the first-degree murder of seven people and unanimously agreed that he was eligible for the death penalty, would they always impose a death sentence? Several jurors responded they would.

The defense suggested the responses indicated those prospective jurors might ignore any testimony that might be introduced in the sentencing phase of the trial, or that they would ignore testimony earlier in the trial that may affect sentencing.

Gaughan responded with several clarifying questions of his own, asking that if the case proceeded to that point, would they listen to the testimony presented during the sentencing phase before deciding whether to impose the death penalty. All indicated they would.

The discussion concluded with Levitt motioning for a mistrial, which Gaughan denied.

One prospective juror was dismissed after saying he had already made up hid mind about the case. One was dismissed because he has a foreclosure suit pending in Cook County. And another was excused due to the illness of a family member.

Several were excused after citing religious or moral beliefs that prevented them from imposing the death penalty under any circumstances.

Jury selection continues Wednesday at Chicago's Criminal Courts Building.