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Brown's defense wants own DNA tests
Shamus Toomey | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/29/2007

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First published: November 7, 2002

Defense attorneys in the Brown's Chicken & Pasta murders want their own DNA tests done on the prosecution's key evidence - several pieces of half-eaten chicken that authorities say hold telltale saliva that puts one of the two accused men at the crime scene.

Clarence Burch, lead attorney for Juan Luna, 28, said Wednesday he'll ask a judge next month to order the chicken bones be turned over to the defense for DNA testing.

Burch will also take a new sample of Luna's DNA in hopes of finding discrepancies in the alleged 1-in-2.8 trillion match between Luna's genetic material and that found on the chicken.

Authorities say Luna and Jim Degorski, 30, entered the Palatine Brown's just after closing on Jan. 8, 1993. After Luna ate a four- piece chicken dinner, the two former Fremd High School students pulled out a gun, herded seven workers into a cooler and freezer and shot each to death, authorities allege.

Crime scene investigators dug the half-eaten chicken out of an otherwise empty garbage can and, six years later, were able to extract enough DNA from the saliva to compare it to the DNA of suspects, police said. Burch said the DNA is the only physical evidence linking either defendant to the scene.

Prosecutors lifted fingerprints off a paper napkin recovered at the Brown's, but the prints did not match Luna or Degorski's, he said.

"They felt the napkin was significant," said Burch, who received police crime lab reports on the napkin and the chicken Wednesday. "We'll use this (at trial) to negate the presence of my client."

The new round of DNA tests on the chicken could take three months to complete, but the trial isn't expected to start for at least a year. Prosecutors, who declined to comment Wednesday, are still turning over to the defense about 300,000 documents amassed by investigators over the years.

Included in the documents already turned over are transcripts of videotaped statements given to police by Luna and Degorski after their arrests in May.

Burch does not dispute that the transcripts incriminate Luna. But Degorski's attorney, Mark L. Levitt, said the transcripts prove Degorski does not confess on tape.

The short interview ends abruptly after he refuses to answer questions, Levitt said.

Authorities have said Degorski confessed off camera and then clammed up when the tape began rolling. Levitt said he has not received any transcripts or notes on the alleged off-camera confession.

Both Luna and Degorski, who have pleaded not guilty and are in custody, were in court Wednesday as victims' relatives looked on.

During the hearing, Cook County Judge Vincent M. Gaughan dismissed Burch's attempt to have the way defendants are found eligible for the death penalty declared unconstitutional. Burch argued a jury, not prosecutors, should say if people are eligible for execution. Prosecutors countered that their August announcement to seek to execute the Brown's suspects if convicted followed the law.

Also Wednesday, Burch said attorney Callie L. Baird will likely join Luna's defense team. The former assistant public defender once headed up the civilian internal affairs unit of the Chicago Police Department.