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Degorski 'damaged' by childhood abuse, expert says
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff

Professor of psychology Marla Brassard spent five hours on the stand Thursday in James Degorski's murder trial, testifying that she believes descriptions of his childhood abuse are truthful.


George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/15/2009 8:50 PM

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Thursday marked another day of cringe-inducing testimony in the capital murder trial of James Degorski, convicted of the 1993 slayings of seven workers at a Palatine Brown's Chicken & Pasta.

Much of it came from Marla Ruth Brassard, a Columbia University professor of psychology and education whose research centers on children who have suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents. A witness for the defense, Brassard has interviewed Degorski and most of his immediate family. She also reviewed their educational, psychiatric and, in some instances, criminal records to give her opinion of the truthfulness of allegations of abuse.

Her testimony echoed statements made by previous witnesses who told of Degorski family members' abuse, most of it allegedly at the hands of patriarch William Degorski.

"It was clear to me from the very beginning that he was the major source of the abusive environment," said Brassard, who interviewed William Degorski more than 20 times.

Both William Degorski and his ex-wife Patricia told her they had been abused as children, leaving them unable to parent properly, Brassard said during her five hours of testimony.

"All of the children are damaged but not all of them reacted in the same way to growing up in that environment," said Brassard, adding that the siblings' behavior - including anxiety, secrecy, substance abuse, recklessness, criminal activity and minimizing what happened to them - is consistent among abuse victims.

Prosecutors attempted to discredit the abuse claims, highlighting contradictions between Brassard's conclusions and those of other therapists involved with the family, including one who found William Degorski posed no physical threat. To that end, Assistant State's Attorney Linas Kelecius quoted from a report by clinical psychologist Anne Brown who wrote: "the family has been overwhelmed by too many helpers, too many sources, too many evaluations."

Kelecius suggested Patricia Degorski might have exaggerated abuse claims to facilitate her 1991 divorce from William. Noting that some of the most extreme abuse allegations came after James Degorski's 2002 arrest, Kelecius implied they might have been the family's attempt to elicit sympathy for Degorski that might save his life.

One person reluctant to discuss the abuse was James Degorski. Under questioning from Assistant Public Defender Susan Smith, Brassard testified that Degorski opposed his attorneys' efforts. Brassard said he urged his family to decline her interview requests and refuse to participate in "humiliation mitigation."

Testimony continues Friday in Chicago and is expected to go into next week.