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Brown's witness: Bloody footprints from a cop
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff

James Degorski


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Published: 9/10/2009 2:49 PM | Updated: 9/10/2009 9:57 PM

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The bloody footprints found in the freezer of a Palatine Brown's Chicken & Pasta belonged to a Cook County Sheriff's officer who removed five of the victims of the 1993 murders.

The officer's testimony came as the capital murder trial of James Degorski, charged with the infamous murders, concluded its second week. Degorski's co-defendant Juan Luna was convicted of the slayings in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. Degorski could face the death penalty if convicted.

Sgt. Robert Jacobsen testified Thursday that the plastic supermarket bags he placed over his shoes to protect the crime scene were "saturated with blood" from victims Lynn Ehlenfeldt, Michael Castro, Guadalupe Maldonado, Marcus Nellsen and Rico Solis. He testified that the shoe impressions visible in a prosecution photograph of the crime scene came from his shoes. The bodies of Richard Ehlenfeldt and Thomas Mennes were found in a walk-in cooler.

Jacobsen, a 29-year-veteran of the sheriff's department, said that he was the only living person in the freezer as the victims were being removed.

After returning to his home, he threw out his blood-soaked clothes and shoes, he said.

Under cross examination by Assistant Public Defender Brendan Max, Jacobsen admitted that he did not mention the foot impressions in any of his reports. He also said he did not inform his supervisor.

"If you knowingly contaminated that crime scene with your footprints, you would have had a professional and ethical obligation to tell" (your supervisor), said Max.

"I'm sure he was aware I was leaving them," Jacobsen said of the footprints. He later added, "It was inevitable that I would leave them."

At one point, Max suggested that the footprints were not Jacobsen's. Jacobsen refuted him, insisting, "They're my shoes."

The prosecution played a brief video that showed Jacobsen, with bags covering his shoes, removing the victims.

The defense sought to use Jacobsen's testimony to bolster its argument that law enforcement mishandled the Brown's investigation and subsequently charged the wrong person.

The prosecution also played a lengthy videotaped deposition from February, 2007, in which firearms expert Robert Wilson identified about 20 bullets recovered from the crime scene.

Later, forensic scientist Ken Pfoser testified that DNA recovered from two bones that came from a discarded chicken dinner found in one of the restaurant's trash cans matched Luna's DNA. Pfoser also testified that scientists also recovered a second, minor DNA profile from the bones. The person who contributed the minor profile has never been identified and experts excluded Degorski as a contributor. Degorski's attorneys claim the minor profile matches the real suspect.

The trial's second week concluded with firearms expert Peter Striupaitis of the Northeastern Illinois Crime Laboratory. Striupaitis testified that the fired bullets and bullet fragments he analyzed could have been fired from a .38 caliber, Smith & Wesson revolver. Prosecutors allege that Degorski and Luna used Degorski's .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver to commit the murders.

Under cross examination, however, Striupaitis said that it's also possible the bullets were fired from a .357 magnum or possibly more than one weapon.

"You can't say all the bullets were fired from one gun, correct?" asked Max.

"Correct," said Striupaitis.

Striupaitis also cited Ruger, North American Arms, Taurus and Smith & Wesson, along with several other manufacturers, as companies that could have manufactured the gun from which the recovered bullets were fired.

Testimony resumes Monday in Chicago.