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'Violence does not end violence'
Victim's family joins Lunas ´┐Żat anti-death penalty rally
By Stacy St. Clair | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/16/2007

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In a rare display of mid-trial unity Tuesday, Juan Luna's relatives joined the family of one his victims outside the Cook County courthouse Tuesday morning to protest the convicted killer's possible execution.

Mary Jane Crow, whose brother Michael Castro suffered the most bullet wounds in the 1993 Brown's Chicken murders, said taking Luna's life will not lessen her family's grief.

"It doesn't kill our pain," she said. "It only kills one person."

After the protest, the jury ruled Luna eligible for the death penalty for his role in the fatal shootings of seven people inside the Palatine restaurant on Jan. 8, 1993. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will now present witnesses to argue whether Luna should be executed for the crime.

The jury, made up of nine men and three women, has only two options for Luna: Death or natural life without parole.

Last week, the panel convicted Luna of the Jan. 8, 1993, slayings, one of the bloodiest rampages in Chicago-area history.

Prosecutors allege he and Degorski, now 34, fatally shot their victims in an attempt to "do something big." Degorski, who will be tried separately, also has pleaded not guilty. He, too, could face the death penalty if convicted.

In the days after Luna's 2002 arrest, the Castro family said they hoped the Carpentersville man would be sentenced to death. Michael Castro's father, Manny, even offered to the "pull the switch" on Luna.

Over the years, however, Crow says the family's religious convictions have replaced their need for vengeance. They now hope Luna, 33, will spend the rest of his life in prison.

"Revenge and justice are two different things," Crow said. "He did not have mercy on our family, but we will have mercy on him."

Relatives of four victims have said publicly they oppose the death penalty for Luna, while the families of three others say he should be killed for brutally murdering seven people. The Castros, however, were the only victims' relatives to join the Lunas at the Tuesday morning news conference.

As Crow spoke, nearly two dozen members of the Luna family -- including his wife, parents and two siblings --stood behind her holding white votive candles. Crow fought back tears as she prayed for Luna's life to be spared.

"Blood for blood is not the right answer," she said. "Violence does not end violence."

Luna's younger sister, Brenda Sanchez, thanked the victims' relatives for speaking out against the death penalty and for the kindness they have shown her family during the trial.

"We're praying for them," Sanchez said.

Sanchez did not speak about the trial or her brother's conviction. She said her family's religious beliefs have made them lifelong opponents of the death penalty.

"We're Catholics and very religious," she said. "God is going to show us mercy."

The news conference was organized by Murder Victims' Families For Human Rights and a DePaul University student group. The Castro family, however, was the catalyst for the event and extended an invitation for the Lunas to join them.

"It says more about them than it does about the organizers," said Eliot Slosar, a DePaul student who helped arrange the event.

The Castros said they have not yet forgiven Luna, but they know God would want them to do so. Mary Jane Crow said she also wanted to send the right message to her children.

"At one time I did (forgive Luna) and I'm sure I can find it again in my heart," she said. "We came from the same maker and he in a way is my brother. He's very lost, he's very angry and he needs to find his way home."

The daughters of slain restaurant owners Lynn and Richard Ehlenfeldt also oppose the death penalty. They declined to speak at the vigil, but they did stand in the wings as the Lunas and Castros spoke.

"I am against the death penalty in all situations," said Joy Ehlenfeldt, their youngest daughter.

During the vigil, Joy Ehlenfeldt stood with her arm wrapped around Diane Clayton, whose son Marcus Nellsen was killed inside the restaurant. After seeing her son's bloody corpse on several occasions during the trial, Clayton says Luna should die for his actions.

Clayton says she respects the Castros' opinion, but she rejects their assertion that God wouldn't want them to push the death penalty.

"God didn't do this," she said. "Juan Luna did this."

Joy Ehlenfeldt said despite the philosophical divide, the families remain supportive of one another. They have regularly packed the courtroom's benches together during the 14-day trial. They are often seen comforting each other in the hallways after particularly grisly testimony.

"I support all six of the victims' families no matter what their opinion of the death penalty is," she said. "I think we all need to come together and support one another. I can respect everyone's opinion whether they're different from mine or not."