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Study's verdict: Brown's investigation was sloppy
By Steve Warmbir | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/29/2007

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First published: November 19, 1997

A long-awaited study of the Palatine police department's work on the unsolved Brown's Chicken massacre will report that police never fingerprinted one of the victims - a fundamental step in a homicide investigation. The Better Government Association report also will indicate that well over 50 people went through the crime scene of the massacre, according to a source close to the investigation. Typically, investigators want to keep the number of people entering a crime scene to a bare minimum to avoid contaminating evidence.

The report, expected to be released Thursday, contains numerous, detailed criticisms of how the Palatine police department conducted the investigation of seven people slain in January 1993, according to the source.

Palatine officials, meanwhile, issued a statement calling into question the fairness of the report.

Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins asked the Illinois State Crime Commission to review the report when it comes out. The commission is a not-for-profit group that deals with criminal justice issues.

"For over a year, the public has been inundated with innuendo, leaks and misinformation regarding the Brown's investigation," Mullins said in a two-page statement. "I am deeply concerned and displeased with the negative tone of reports leaked thus far ... well in advance of the public release of the Better Government Association report. It has not appeared to me, or the Palatine Village Council, that there has been a balanced assessment of the work performed by the Brown's task force."

Mullins did not return phone calls Tuesday. Palatine police Chief Jerry Bratcher did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked for a response to Mullins' call for a review of the BGA study, J. Terrence Brunner, the BGA's executive director, laughed and said, "They can have anybody review us."

Brunner said the report will speak for itself and said he believed people will be impressed by the amount of work that went into the two-year effort.

Michael R. Lyons, the BGA's chief investigator, added, "When you start having government launch investigations of their critics, we might as well move to Iraq."

On Tuesday, veteran homicide investigators said not fingerprinting a murder victim is quite simply sloppy police work.

"It's Homicide 101," said one former homicide investigator from the suburbs.

The BGA report does not identify which victim was not fingerprinted nor why.

Victims are fingerprinted to eliminate their prints from those recovered at the scene - as police work to find if the killer left any prints.

Defense attorneys differed on whether failing to fingerprint a victim would mean much in court if the Brown's massacre is ever solved and prosecuted.

If not fingerprinting a victim is one of many errors, "the defense is going to be able to do a modified O.J.," said Leonard L. Cavise, a professor with DePaul University who specializes in criminal law.

In the O.J. Simpson murder trial, defense attorneys pointed to alleged police errors to discredit the entire investigation.

Other defense attorneys said failing to fingerprint a victim, as long as the body was positively identified, wouldn't mean much in the courtroom.

"The mere fact that the body was never fingerprinted will not turn out to be an issue," said Randolph Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago.

Investigators on Tuesday also indicated that allowing more than 50 people in a crime scene was highly unusual, even for one as prominent as the Brown's massacre.

People walking through a crime scene can destroy evidence, make it useless or accidentally carry away evidence, such as a fiber.

On Tuesday, Jerry Elsner, the executive director of the Illinois State Crime Commission, said he would assemble by early next week a task force of six or more law enforcement experts to assess the truth of the BGA report and the recommendations by a panel brought together by the BGA and the Chicago Crime Commission.

Elsner said his task force would issue a report within two weeks after it's formed and give it to Mullins and the public.