Daily Herald
Guilty plea expected in Nicarico murder
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 7/21/2009 10:51 PM | Updated: 7/21/2009 11:24 PM

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Convicted killer Brian J. Dugan is expected to stand before a DuPage County judge next week and officially utter the words many waited decades to hear - I'm guilty.

Three legal sources involved in the high-profile case confirmed Tuesday to the Daily Herald that Dugan will plead guilty at 3 p.m. Tuesday to the infamous 1983 murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville.

The 52-year-old former Aurora man long ago offered to admit to the crime, for which two other men spent years on death row before being exonerated, but only if prosecutors agreed to take the death penalty off the table.

They still refuse to spare his life, the sources said, but Dugan is eager to accept responsibility for the crime regardless with the hope it will sway a judge or jury he is worthy of mercy.

"He's rolling the dice and taking a chance," one of the sources said. "He's wanted to accept responsibility for a long time."

Dugan and one of his attorneys met in DuPage Circuit Judge George Bakalis' chambers Monday, when the defendant told the judge of his wishes to plead guilty to the murder, the sources said. Dugan still has the legal right to change his mind before Tuesday, but the sources said he is steadfast in his decision.

In fact, Dugan also has asked to face the slain child's parents, Tom and Pat Nicarico, sources said. They said he wants the opportunity to apologize and answer the parents' questions.

Jury selection in the trial is slated to begin in late September. After Tuesday's plea, lengthy two-month death penalty eligibility and sentencing phases still will be carried out as scheduled.

Dugan has been in prison since 1985 for killing Geneva nurse Donna Schnorr and 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk. He is serving two life prison terms for the murders and a series of unrelated sex attacks in which the young women survived.

DuPage County prosecutors indicted him in Jeanine's Feb. 25, 1983, murder in late November 2005. The bubbly, dimpled-face child was raped and fatally beaten after being abducted from her home near Naperville while out sick from school with the flu. Prosecutors cited improved DNA - from hair and semen - as part of their evidence connecting him to the crime.

DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett was aware Tuesday of a likely plea and confirmed he has not wavered on his pursuit of the death penalty.

"Whatever he decides to do, we'll be ready," Birkett said.

Three other men were charged and eventually cleared, but not before two, including Rolando Cruz, spent years on death row. Seven law enforcement officials later faced a 47-count indictment on charges they railroaded Cruz, but they were exonerated during a nine-week trial in 1999.

Birkett argues Dugan, whose long history of crimes dates back to his teenage years, is the poster boy for why the death penalty remains Illinois law despite an unofficial moratorium. Tom and Pat Nicarico also support the death penalty for their daughter's murder.

Plea: Sources say he wants to talk to girl's parents