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Prosecutors present final witnesses in Degorski case
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff

James Degorski


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Published: 9/23/2009 7:04 PM

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Prosecutors got their last chance to present evidence Wednesday in James Degorski's capital murder case, which is expected to go to the jury next week.

Degorski, 37, has been charged in the 1993 slayings of seven workers at a Palatine Brown's Chicken & Pasta. His co-defendant Juan Luna was convicted of the murders in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. DNA, a partial palm print, and a detailed confession linked Luna to the crime. No physical evidence links Degorski to the scene and the confession authorities say he made to a Palatine detective and a Cook County assistant state's attorney has not been played for the jury.

If convicted, Degorski could face the death penalty.

On Wednesday, the prosecution team presented several witnesses rebutting the defense case, which focused on convincing jurors that sloppy police work and a mishandled investigation resulted in false confessions elicited by overzealous task force investigators. The prosecution made oblique reference to one of those confessions in its rebuttal.

Two firearms experts testified about a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson gun belonging to the father of one-time suspect Jonathon Simonek, who falsely confessed to the murders in 1998 but has since been cleared. Authorities believe the murder weapon was a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.

Earlier, Peter Striupaitis, of the Northeastern Illinois Crime Laboratory, testified that the fired rounds found at the murder scene could have come from a .38 caliber revolver. During the prosecution's rebuttal, however, Striupaitis and Dan B. Gunnell, of the Illinois State Police, testified that the bullets recovered from the scene did not come from Simonek's gun.

Sgt. William J. Glisson, a 15-year veteran of the Kane County Forest Preserve District police, testified in rebuttal to hydrology expert Nani Bhowmik's testimony Tuesday that water current alone could not move a gun weighing 1.4 lbs., the estimated weight of a .38 caliber revolver. Palatine police Commander William King had testified that Degorski told him he and Luna used a .38 to murder the victims and that afterward, they threw the weapon into the Fox River at the Carpentersville Dam. The gun has never been recovered. Glisson said that over 11 years patrolling the dam, he has observed a variety of materials slipping over it, including trees, large ice floes and other items. His testimony suggested the current might have been strong enough to carry the weapon downstream.

The defense begins its rebuttal Thursday in Chicago. Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 29 with jury deliberations to follow.