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The defense's case
By Stacy St. Clair | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/9/2007

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At the beginning of the trial, defense attorney Clarence Burch told jurors he was in court to free an innocent man.

He certainly had his work cut out for him. Between a damning confession and DNA evidence linking Juan Luna to the crime scene, the case against the 33-year-old Carpentersville man was compelling.

�However, in a series of chess-like moves that defense attorneys hope will clear Luna, the state's strongest evidence against him may lead to an argument for reasonable doubt.

The DNA samples, the partial palm print and even Luna's chilling confession have been bruised under defense questioning. And most of the damage points toward law-enforcement error or neglect.

For example, the DNA evidence -- found on two half-eaten chicken bones -- was allowed to be handled by people not wearing gloves or masks. The pieces also were repeatedly thawed and frozen again.

In 1994, police sent the bones and a coffee stirrer to a laboratory in the hopes of obtaining a profile of the person they believe ate the last meal inside the restaurant.

At the time, the saliva sample was too small for testing. A scientist threw out the lone tested bone, a stirrer and, most importantly, the DNA extract.

Four years later, authorities sent the food remnants to the Illinois State Police Crime Laboratory. Once there, a forensic scientist swabbed five bones and found evidence of two people's DNA present.

Luna matches one, while authorities never have been able to locate the second contributor. Jim Degorski, who also has pleaded not guilty as Luna's accomplice in the murders, has been ruled out as a possible source.

The swabs were mailed back to authorities, according to testimony, but never arrived.

"They were sent out, but they were never received at the destination," testified Cecilia Doyle, a section chief at the Illinois State Police crime lab.

The defense also showed jurors a 13-minute video in which a Palatine man implicates himself and a friend in the murders. The 1999 confession, which included details not yet released to the public, was dismissed by the prosecution as being blatantly coerced.

In doing so, however, prosecutors had to concede improprieties occurred during the near decade-long investigation. Attacking the integrity of the biggest case in Northwest suburban history, however, meant prosecutors left themselves vulnerable to defense claims of improprieties in the handling of the case against Luna.

"Are you telling me that a perfectly innocent person in the custody of the Palatine Police Department can confess to a crime that he absolutely did not commit?" defense attorney Clarence Burch asked Palatine Sgt. Steve Bratcher.

"Yes," Bratcher replied, sending a slight rumble through the courtroom gallery.

What the jury will have to consider

Key elements of the prosecution