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First 2 jurors chosen in Brown's trial
One had never heard of case
By Stacy St. Clair | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/30/2007

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The first two members of Juan Luna's jury would be able to sentence him to death - but both said it would not be a snap decision.

The two panelists were chosen Thursday in the first day of jury selection in the Brown's Chicken & Pasta murder trial. Fifteen other potential members were excused.

The first juror is a Cook County probation officer with three small children. The woman, a Polish immigrant in her 30s, acknowledged being personally torn over the death penalty.

"It's an extreme option," she said. "I'm struggling with that option myself. For some people, it might be the only way to go with them."

Prosecutors allege James Degorski and Luna, a former Brown's employee, killed five of the restaurant's workers and its two owners on Jan. 8, 1993. After writing the most violent chapter in Northwest suburban Chicago history, the defendants returned to unassuming lives and kept their actions a secret for nine years, police say.

Both men have pleaded not guilty. If they're convicted, the jury will decide if they should receive the death penalty.

Luna, who was living in Carpentersville with his wife and son at the time of his arrest, faces 21 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of seven people: Lynn and Richard Ehlenfeldt, Guadalupe Maldanado, Michael Castro, Thomas Mennes, Marcus Nellsen and Rico Solis.

With the charges against Luna so heinous, Cook County Judge VincentMichael Gaughan asked the juror to look Luna in the eye and say whether she could give him a fair trial. The woman turned to the defendant, who was seated 4 feet away, and answered affirmatively.

Luna, who was dressed in a dark suit and maroon tie, offered a weak smile in return.

When the attorneys later discussed the woman's potential jury service, Gaughan recalled that moment. Both sides endorsed her for the jury without any objections.

"She looked him dead in the eye and promised him a fair trial," Gaughan said.

The woman, who has a master's degree in criminal justice administration and studied to be a lawyer in Poland, acknowledged she knew about the killings. She said she was surprised when she was called to serve on the case.

"I was like, 'Wow, what are the chances you were called?' I was pretty honored," she said.

In contrast, the second juror selected said he had never heard of the case. The man, who looked to be in his mid-20s, said when he learned he could possibly serve on the Brown's Chicken trial, he assumed it was a food poisoning lawsuit.

"I actually thought Brown's Chicken was (about) bad chicken," the man said.

The second juror, who also complimented the attorneys' suits in his questionnaire, said he supported the death penalty in certain circumstances.

"If there's enough evidence against the person, I'm for it," he said.

The prospective jurors were almost evenly divided on the death penalty during questioning. Of the 12 specifically asked about their views on capital punishment, five said they did not support it for any reason.

"You have a lot of people who were on death row who were later proved innocent," one prospective juror said. "There are other ways of punishing."

Prosecutors used four of their 10 peremptory strikes Thursday on candidates who opposed the death penalty. The defense attorneys exercised five - half of those allotted to them during the selection process.

The schedule called for 30 people to be questioned Thursday, though the attorneys were able to get through only 17. The selection process was done in private with only the judge, Luna, defense attorneys, prosecutors and a media representative present.

As the nine-hour process dragged on behind closed doors, jury pool members struggled to entertain themselves in the courtroom.

Some made small talk, while several napped in between court- provided snacks. The two selected jurors had their noses buried in books for most of the day. Another 30 prospective jurors are scheduled to be interviewed today. The trial is slated to begin April 13.