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Jurors must now decide on whether Luna lives, dies
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Published: 5/14/2007

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Juan Luna's life now rests in the hands of the same 12 people who convicted him of writing the bloodiest chapter in suburban Chicago history.

His jury will reconvene today to determine whether Luna's crimes qualify him for the death penalty. If members decide the slayings meet the state's requirements for capital punishment, they then will hear testimony as to whether they should spare the 33-year-old man's life.

The mere facts in the killings don't bode well for Luna: Seven people brutally murdered inside the Palatine Brown's Chicken on a cold January night in 1993.

For weeks the jury has seen gruesome crime scene videos and autopsy photographs of bloodied, bullet-riddled victims. They have heard the anguished sobs of family members as they watched footage of loved ones, most frozen in their final death poses, being removed from the restaurant's refrigeration units.

Luna's defense team now has the arduous task of convincing jurors to spare the life of the man they hold responsible for those horrific images and tormented sounds.

Experts say it doesn't help Luna that during jury selection the panelists - nine men and three women - said they would be able to sentence a man to death. Under state law, citizens cannot serve as jurors in death penalty cases if they oppose capital punishment.

"It's hard to overcome seven dead bodies," said Andrea Lyon, director of the DePaul University Center for Justice in Capital Cases.

The trial's next phase, often referred to as the eligibility phase, is typically a perfunctory process. To qualify for the death penalty, the defendant's crime must meet at least one of 20 so-called aggravating factors, including multiple deaths, premeditation or performed during the commission of another felony.

In their closing arguments last week, prosecutors accused Luna of those three things, saying he went to the restaurant with his pockets filled with bullets and stole $1,800 from the Brown's safe.

If they find Luna eligible, jurors will hear evidence as to whether his life deserves to be spared.

Victims' relatives - though they have divergent views on the death penalty - are expected to testify for the prosecution, while the defendant's family will tell the panel about his peaceful nature and devotion to his 10-year-old son.

"The jurors will being asking, 'Is this a person who can and should be redeemed?'æ" said Stephan Landsman, a DePaul University College of Law professor.

Though the prosecution can introduce prior convictions, the lone blemish on Luna's record before his 2002 arrest in the Brown's case was for writing a bad $100 check in 1999.

In the nine years between the Brown's massacre and his 2002 arrest, Luna worked as an appliance deliveryman and lived a seemingly quiet life with his wife and only child in Carpentersville.

Landsman, who personally opposes the death penalty, isn't sure Luna's apparent good behavior since the murders will be enough to sway the jury.

"Does nine exemplary years lessen the crime?" he asked. "Certainly not."

The jury deliberated for nearly 12 hours over two days before reaching a guilty verdict. Given the evidence against Luna, experts say there may have been a lengthy debate among the panel.

In Cook County, jurors have been known to convict defendants in murder cases more quickly, sometimes during lunch. Luna's jury must come to a unanimous decision on the death penalty or he automatically gets a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"That (12 hours) is a long time with a confession," Lyon said. "That means there was someone who had doubts."

Several jurors, however, already expressed strong support for the death penalty in first-degree murder cases. During the selection process, one juror, a man who was acquitted in 2001 of stealing city property, said he does not approve of life sentences for killers.

"They shouldn't be in jail," he said. "It's a waste of taxpayers' money."

Others, including a Cook County probation officer and a 24-year-old suburban man, said they personally grapple with capital punishment. Ultimately, though, both said they could sign a form sentencing someone to death.

"It's tough to understand the compromise of life for life," the suburban man said.

When the panel's decision was announced Thursday, some jurors looked directly at Luna as he listened to the seven guilty verdicts. One woman, a young mother who didn't live in the area in 1993, wept heavily in the jury box.

Experts say her tears were an indication the panel understands the gravity of the situation.

"It speaks to her dignity," Landsman said. "It tells you how serious and hard the process is. And it should be serious and hard."