Daily Herald
Key points in the Degorski trial
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 9/29/2009 12:04 AM

Throughout James Degorski's capital murder trial for the 1993 slayings of seven workers at a Palatine Brown's Chicken & Pasta, the defense and prosecution focused on several issues which they want the jury to consider during its deliberations.

Key points in the prosecution's case:

• Incriminating statements to friends. High school friends Eileen Bakalla and Anne England (nee Lockett) testified James Degorski and Juan Luna told them about the murders in 1993. Bakalla said she picked up Degorski and Luna at a grocery store parking lot in Carpentersville shortly after the murders. She said they initially told her they robbed Brown's but Degorski later told her they shot the seven workers. England testified that Degorski told her he and Luna put a wedge under the back door to prevent escape and used gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. England said Degorski told her one of the victims vomited (a detail never released to the public) and that Luna cut Lynn Ehlenfeldt's throat.

• Incriminating statements to authorities. Palatine Police Commander William King, then a detective, and Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHale, then an assistant state's attorney, testified Degorski confessed to them during interviews on May 17, 2002. Both men testified that over nine hours, Degorski gave an account of how the crime unfolded, including details about the gun, a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, and the warning shot fired into the ceiling. King testified Degorski said he shot two people in the cooler and Luna killed the five victims in the freezer, that they'd mopped the floor and cleaned Luna's car, and that they tossed the gun into the Fox River.

• The murder weapon. McHale testified Degorski told him he bought a .38 caliber, Smith and Wesson revolver from an acquaintance named Matt Wzientek, who testified he stole the weapon from a friend's home in summer 1992 and sold the gun and 11/2 boxes of bullets to Degorski for $15 later that year. Prosecutors say Degorski and Luna used the gun to commit the murders.

• Deborah Medow. The former employee of Little City testified that she brought two disabled residents of the Palatine residential home to Brown's for dinner on Jan. 8, 1993. Medow, who did not testify at Luna's trial, said she and the men, who used wheelchairs, left about 9 p.m. as employees were cleaning up. King testified Degorski recounted watching from Luna's car as a woman loaded two "crippled kids" into a van before they went into the restaurant.

Key points in the defense case:

• Lack of evidence. No physical evidence links Degorski to the scene. Authorities linked Degorski's co-defendant Juan Luna to the crime through his DNA, which matched DNA recovered from the remains of a four-piece chicken dinner and from a partial palm print found on a napkin.

• Unreliable witness. The defense suggested that star prosecution witness Anne England's history of drug and alcohol abuse and several hospitalizations for attempted suicide and depression around the time of the murders make her testimony unreliable.

• Missing murder weapon. Bullets recovered from the scene implicated a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver. Matt Wzientek testified that he sold a stolen .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver to Degorski in late 1992 for $15. Degorski's former girlfriend Anne England testified she saw a similar gun in Degorski's basement bedroom of his Hoffman Estates home. But authorities have not recovered the weapon. Moreover, a firearms expert testified the bullets recovered at the scene could have come from a gun made by another company or from another type of gun altogether.

• Mishandling of the crime scene. The defense alleges trace evidence from the victims' clothes was not properly cataloged or examined and that it could have identified the real suspect. More than 50 fingerprints found at the scene remain unidentified; none of them match Degorski. Shoe impressions found at the scene, including a bloody impression outside the freezer where five victims were found, could point to the real suspect, says the defense, but were rendered useless because they were not properly preserved. The prosecution says the foot impression outside the freezer was made by a Cook County Sheriff's officer while he was removing the victims.

• False confessions. Two people testified police pressured them into making false confessions, and defense lawyers say the same thing happened to Degorski. No evidence links the two to the murders and neither was ever charged.