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Witness says maturity finally made her come forward
What's new: Prosecution star witness Anne Lockett testifies about how defendant Juan Luna told her of the slayings in 1993.

By Stacy St. Clair | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/25/2007

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At 17, Anne Lockett says she promised her then-boyfriend and his high school pal she would never implicate them in the Brown's Chicken murders.

Though her information could have led to an arrest in the high-profile case, Lockett kept quiet. And, for at least one year, she also kept dating the man who she says admitted to committing one of the goriest crimes in suburban Chicago history.

Lockett maintained her silence for nearly a decade until, she said, she was "mature" enough to come forward. When she did finally go to authorities, she told them her ex-boyfriend, Jim Degorski, and his buddy Juan Luna had described to her how they killed seven people inside the Palatine restaurant.

Prosecutors allege the men fatally shot the establishment's two owners and five employees on Jan. 8, 1993, in a quest to "do something big." The friends, who are being tried separately, have pleaded not guilty to the crime.

If convicted, both could face the death penalty.

Lockett, a 31-year-old gas station manager, is now serving as the prosecution's star witness in Luna's trial. During her testimony Tuesday, she appeared remorseless and, at times, defiant about her alleged role in one of the suburbs' most infamous crimes.

Wearing a blue maternity top over her obviously pregnant belly, Lockett told the jury Degorski and Luna confessed to the crime while the three of them were hanging out in Degorski's bedroom in late January 1993.

Her testimony, coupled with another witness' statements earlier in the trial, painted a dark portrait of drunk and drugged suburban teens who kept horrific secrets and long remained indifferent to the anguish that had enveloped the case.

"I never planned to tell anyone," she said Tuesday. "I just blacked it out."

Lockett testified she first learned of the killings while being treated for a suicide attempt at a suburban psychiatric facility. After Degorski called her at the hospital, she said, she turned on the television and heard that seven people had been killed inside the restaurant.

She called her mother and asked her to bring newspaper clippings about the crime to the hospital.

A few days after being released from the psychiatric facility, Lockett said, she went to Degorski's house to hang out with him and Luna. Her boyfriend asked if she wanted to know what happened at Brown's, and Lockett answered affirmatively.

She testified both men began telling her how they went to the restaurant wearing old clothes and shoes.

"They had their pockets full of bullets," she said.

As the men stalked through the parking lot, they walked funny so their gaits would not be identified. Before entering the establishment, Lockett testified, the men wedged a piece of wood underneath the employee entrance.

Luna, who had previously worked at the restaurant, ordered chicken once inside - a move Lockett said upset Degorski.

"Jim was very angry," she testified, "because he was worried about leaving greasy fingerprints."

Prosecutors say DNA and a partial palm print from that meal link Luna to the crime scene. There's no physical evidence connecting Degorski to the restaurant that night, authorities acknowledged.

After Luna finished eating, Lockett said, the men went into the bathroom and put on gloves. They fought with a worker in the hallway, she said. Another tried to flee out the employee door, but the wedge prevented it from opening.

When that employee attempted to jump over the counter, Lockett said, he was shot. Another employee, who is believed to be 17-year-old Rico Solis, vomited french fries, she testified.

Lockett said both men told her they fired Degorski's silver revolver during the crime.

"One man, Juan shot and did not kill him," she testified, "so Jim had to take care of the rest."

Lockett said Luna gave her an animated account of how he held Lynn Ehlenfeldt's head, called her a "bitch" and then slit her throat.

"Juan was physically into it (rehashing the crime)," Lockett said. "Jim was more sitting on the bed telling the story."

All seven victims - Solis, Michael Castro, Lynn Ehlenfeldt, Richard Ehlenfeldt, Guadalupe Maldonado, Thomas Mennes and Marcus Nellsen - died of gunshot wounds to the head, according to court records. Castro and Lynn Ehlenfeldt also had knife wounds.

Lockett testified the men told her they dropped the gun - a .38-caliber revolver Degorski kept on his bedside table - in the Fox River near either Carpentersville or Algonquin. They ditched their bloody clothes in trash bins along the way, she said.

After finishing their story, Lockett said, Degorski vowed to kill her if she ever told. Luna never threatened her, she said.

"I was never planning on telling anybody," she testified. "I figured they had killed seven, why not eight?"

She maintained her silence even though she said she knew Martin Blake, another Brown's employee with whom she occasionally partied, had been arrested in connection with the slayings. He was never charged with the crime and was released after a lengthy interrogation.

Lockett said she continued dating Degorski for roughly a year after she learned of his involvement in the gruesome murders. The two had met in high school and formed a friendship based on their mutual love of drugs, alcohol and heavy metal music. They started dating in late 1992, less than two months before the murders.

Lockett, who began heavily drinking at age 14, said she smoked marijuana with Luna and Degorski almost daily in either Degorski's small basement bedroom or garage during high school. At one point, they were dropping acid two or three times a week and taking speed, she said.

They once sprinkled PCP, a hallucinogenic drug commonly known as angel dust, on their pot to give it an extra kick. The friends also snorted cocaine for the first time in Degorski's living room, she said.

"I just liked how it made me feel," she said of the drugs.

Soon after they started dating, Lockett said, Degorski began verbally abusing her. Once he confided in her about the murders, she said, he began to physically abuse her, as well.

She finally broke up with him in 1994 and bought a mobile home with money she made working at a pet shop. She began traveling the country, staying for periods in Utah, Oregon, North Carolina and southern Illinois.

Though she was living more than 1,000 miles away from Degorski at times, Lockett said she still feared him too much to tell anyone what he had done. Despite those concerns, she had a lengthy conversation with Degorski - her first in roughly six years - when he called her at her sister's house in downstate Illinois in 2000. Lockett even gave him her address so he could mail her some personal items she left at his house.

Two years later, Lockett said, she shared the men's secret with her then-boyfriend and their roommate. Rather than go to the police, the trio all applied for firearm cards and borrowed a 9 mm gun from Lockett's sister.

"I blacked it out for a long time," she said. "I came to the decision that I was mature enough and I went forward."

Lockett's former roommate, Keith Valenti, testified Tuesday she had showed him the men's high school yearbook photos so they could be ready if Degorski and Luna ever came to the door. Neither man ever did.

Lockett also confided in her best friend from high school, who in turn went to the Palatine police. Luna and Degorski were arrested and charged with the killings in May 2002.

"I felt I owed it to the families to come forward," Lockett said.

In an effort to make the jurors see Lockett as more than just a coldhearted drug user who kept a horrific secret, prosecutors went to great lengths to portray her as the victim of a troubled childhood. Lockett told the jurors her father drank excessively after losing his job in the late 1980s. While her family struggled to survive financially and emotionally, she found comfort in alcohol and marijuana.

Lockett was admitted to psychiatric hospitals at least twice as a teenager. She was diagnosed with depression, short-term memory loss and anger issues, according to testimony Tuesday.

She underwent treatment for alcohol addiction in 2004 after, she said, the media scrutiny surrounding the arrests prompted her to start drinking heavily again. She testified she has been sober for a year and attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

After showcasing their star witness Tuesday, prosecutors played a disturbing and bloody video of the seven bodies being removed from the restaurant's refrigeration units. Some jurors covered their mouths in shock as the victims, most of whom were frozen in their final death poses, were shown being placed in coroner's bags.

The footage so disturbed several victims' relatives, the majority left the proceeding in tears. Through the courtroom's thick, wooden doors, their tortured wailing could be heard coming from the hallway bathroom.

sstclair@dailyherald.com

jryan@dailyherald.com