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How verdict could affect case against Degorski
By Eric Krol and Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/11/2007

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The guilty verdict against Juan Luna in the Brown's Chicken & Pasta murder trial could strengthen prosecutors' shakier case against the man they allege was the mastermind of the grisly killings: James E. Degorski.

Luna's trial served as a test run for the Cook County state's attorney's office, and the result showed the jury apparently did not believe Luna's confession was coerced, which could be a key part of Degorski's defense if it comes up at his trial.

The verdict also showed a jury had faith in the testimony of key witnesses Anne Lockett and Eileen Bakalla, Degorski's ex-girlfriend and friend, respectively. Both testified that Luna and Degorski detailed the crime to them in the weeks after it took place in 1993, with Bakalla saying she accompanied Degorski to a Streamwood car wash where he cleaned out Luna's car within days of the killings. Both women, however, kept that information secret until nine years after the murders.

Luna confessed on videotape, but there's no videotaped confession by Degorski. At Luna's trial, the jury watched the video in which Luna casts himself as an accomplice for an intended robbery that spiraled out of control as his high school buddy, Degorski, shot victims both in the restaurant and in the freezer. Prosecutors and Degorski's attorneys likely will clash heavily over whether Luna's confession could be played at Degorski's trial.

The DNA evidence presented at Luna's trial tied Luna to the murders, but not Degorski. And there is no indication of any physical evidence linking Degorski to the crime scene.

As Luna did, Degorski has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial. He, like Luna, could face the death penalty if convicted.

If prosecutors have thought about offering Luna a deal to testify against Degorski in return for dropping their death penalty pursuit, it hasn't come up in public. One legal expert suggested it's an option Luna might try to explore at this point.

"The best thing for Luna at this point would be to not have a death penalty determination be made (against him)," said Allen Shoenberger, a law professor at Loyola University. "He'll have to talk to his attorneys. The reality is, most criminal convictions are upheld on appeal."

What's certain is that Luna's conviction can't be introduced at Degorski's trial, at least not at the guilt or innocence phase, Shoenberger said.

Neither Degorski's attorney, Mark Levitt, nor prosecutors could comment because of a court order against talking to the media.

No trial date has been set for Degorski, who was working as a repairman in Indianapolis at the time of his arrest.