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Defense rests in 2nd Brown's Chicken murder trial
By Kimberly Pohl and Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff

James Degorski


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Published: 9/22/2009 1:25 PM | Updated: 9/22/2009 3:57 PM

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The defense in James Degorski's capital murder trial rested on Tuesday.

It did so quietly, with lead defense attorney Mark Levitt presenting to jurors testimony from a forensic specialist who indicated that the DNA found on the remains of a chicken dinner recovered from the scene does not belong to Degorski.

The testimony aimed to support the defense's claim that Degorski was not involved in the 1993 slayings at a Palatine Brown's Chicken & Pasta. Unlike with his co-defendant Juan Luna, who was linked to the crime through a partial palm print and his DNA recovered from the chicken remains, no physical evidence links Degorski to the scene.

Luna was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. If convicted, Degorski could face the death penalty.

The state presents its rebuttal to the defense's case beginning Wednesday. The defense's rebuttal follows with closing statements expected to take place early next week.

The defense spent its final day focusing primarily on a bloody shoe impression found outside the freezer where five of the victims were found. A retired Cook County Sheriff's lieutenant was adamant that bloody shoe impressions were not present when authorities first arrived to the grisly crime scene on Jan. 9, 1993.

Margaret Duffy testified that she didn't see the shoe impressions until several days later, again reinforcing the prosecution's claim they were left by an investigator. She insisted her memory was clear, though she was unable to recall to Assistant Public Defender Brendan Max the exact number of impressions recovered in different areas of the restaurant.

"One thing that struck us that there were seven people murdered and there was no blood around them," Duffy said. "It was a very clean scene."

Max did get Duffy to testify to another police misstep.

While processing the scene, investigators searched for shoe impressions not visible to the naked eye using the chemical Luminol, which causes a print to glow in the dark. But investigators didn't bring the proper film needed to photograph the evidence. They returned with the right film and sprayed the impression a second time, causing it to blur, Duffy said.

"Is this (shoe impression) of any use in forensic comparison," Max asked.

"No sir," Duffy answered.

After the jury was excused for the day, the defense motioned for mistrial based on a statement former Assistant State's Attorney Michael McHale made during cross examination. Assistant Public Defender Susan Smith insisted McHale, now a Cook County Circuit Court judge, inappropriately stated an opinion during his testimony saying he believed the confession Degorski made to him. Judge Vincent M. Gaughan denied the motion.

Tuesday concluded with Gaughan explaining to Degorski his constitutional right to testify or to remain silent. Degorski chose the latter, responding with yes and no answers. It was the first time Degorski spoke in open court since the trial began.

Testimony continues Wednesday in Chicago.