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Columnist
Long search for answers in Brown's Chicken murders is now in court
By Jim Slusher | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 4/5/2007

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At last, a public search for answers.

Many of us who were around on Saturday, Jan. 9, 1993, and prepared the reports describing the deaths of seven people at the Palatine Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant, thought this time might never come.

That feeling was hard to imagine in the weeks and months after the killings.

Sadly, we cover a lot of murders. Rarely do we see a case in which authorities do not have a suspect fairly promptly, and it was almost beyond belief that someone actually could kill seven people in a busy suburb and not leave behind at least one tell-tale piece of evidence or let slip the information to one "wrong" person who would contact authorities.

After years of marking the crime's macabre anniversary with stories about speculation, failed leads and little hope of change, I, for one, was coming to suspect that a viable theory of what happened that terrible night would never be developed.

Then came May 2002. Among the thousands of leads investigated by the Palatine Police Department came a witness who seemed to know things about the crime that no one else but investigators knew. Two suspects were identified and arrested. Suddenly a story that had appeared to have gone cold became white hot, and went on to simmer for nearly five years until one of the suspects, Juan Luna, would finally get his day in court.

Actually, of course, it will be his two months -- or more -- in court. Reconstructing 44 minutes from scratch, as we have seen, is a time-consuming and painstaking task. Our reporting must be painstaking, too, as should your reading and observation of this case -- and any criminal case.

In covering court cases, we are often interested to find proponents of the defense complaining of bias in our coverage during the start of the trial, when the prosecution is presenting its evidence, and proponents of the prosecution complaining once the defense begins putting its witnesses on the stand. As the court tells jurors, it's important to withhold judgment until all the evidence has been presented.

The Daily Herald plans extensive coverage of all the evidence when testimony begins, probably next week. We'll have two reporters at the trial itself most days. Periodically throughout each day, we'll also be taking every opportunity to update events on our Web site, where you also can find a comprehensive review of the case so far, a reconstruction of what prosecutors say happened that January night in 1993, and the text of nearly all our coverage of the case for the past 14 years.

The search for answers in the deaths of seven men and women at Brown's Chicken & Pasta has followed a long, slow path. It has reached a stage where jurors, and newspaper readers along with them, can begin putting the pieces together for themselves. We intend our coverage to help illuminate the process for readers.

My column two weeks ago on our semantic hand-wringing over how to identify people linked romantically but not officially brought some interesting advice.

One reader suggested we refer to such couples as "mates," another as "significant others," still others as "domestic partners." Interestingly, I've noticed the wires referring to Howard K. Stern as Anna Nicole Smith's "partner," a term we've avoided because of its lack of clarity.

Other agencies have been using "companion" in such cases, all of which just emphasizes to me how important, and imperfect, such word choices are.