Daily Herald
Jury returns to decide on death penalty
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 9/29/2009 6:55 PM

The same jury that convicted James Degorski of capital murder will reconvene Wednesday to decide whether he should be sentenced to death.

The six man, six woman jury first must decide whether Degorski is eligible for the death penalty for murdering seven employees at a Brown's Chicken and Pasta in Palatine in 1993.

During this phase, prosecutors introduce evidence to show that Degorski's crime qualifies him for death under Illinois law. To qualify for the death penalty, the crime must satisfy at least one of 20 aggravating factors, among them premeditation, multiple murder victims or a murder committed during the course of another felony.

If jurors find the former Hoffman Estates resident ineligible for the death penalty, the court will sentence him to life in prison without possibility of parole. If jurors unanimously find Degorski eligible for the death penalty, the trial will move into the final sentencing phase, which can take days.

During the sentencing phase, the defense will present mitigating evidence, or reasons they believe the jury should spare Degorski's life. In the trial of Juan Luna, convicted of the same murders in 2007, mitigation witnesses included his family members, among them Luna's young son. Jurors in that case did not apply the death penalty, and he is serving life in prison.

The prosecution will present evidence of aggravation, or reasons they believe death is the appropriate punishment. To that end, the prosecution may call victims' family members to the stand.

Jurors weigh that mitigation and aggravation evidence, along with evidence presented during the trial's previous phases, to determine whether the death sentence is appropriate. At this phase, the verdict does not have to be unanimous. If just one juror votes against the death penalty - as happened with Luna - Degorski would spend the rest of his life in prison.