Decades ago, Ed Cisowski was a skeptical state police lieutenant who questioned Brian Dugan's motive for confessing to an infamous Naperville murder for which two other men sat on death row.
Cisowski didn't pull any punches in their first meeting.
He told Dugan: "I'd put you on death row if I could."
Despite some initial doubt, Cisowski plugged away, meeting with Dugan a half-dozen times in late 1985 and 1986 for interviews, a lie-detector test and hypnosis.
Dugan soon convinced him he alone abducted, raped and killed 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in 1983. He provided some inaccurate details, but Cisowski said Dugan also recalled crucial facts known only to the killer.
Cisowski stood nearly alone in his belief, and even faced criticism from a DuPage County regime convinced back then they prosecuted the right men.
Nearly one-quarter century later, Cisowski testified Thursday in Dugan's death penalty sentencing hearing for the crime. Dugan, 53, who pleaded guilty three months ago to Jeanine's murder, has been serving life prison terms since 1985 for two other sex slayings.
The defense team argues there are mitigating reasons to spare Dugan's life despite his horrific violence. Attorney Steven Greenberg contends Dugan long ago offered to confess, in part, to save the two condemned men even though he was under no obligation to talk.
Cisowski, who retired in 1993 after a 23-year police career, confirmed Dugan did not want the other men executed for his crime.
George Mueller, a LaSalle County assistant public defender who represented Dugan for one of the other slayings, also testified the killer agreed to pen a Nov. 1, 1985 confession that ended with, "in the event of my death, to ensure that innocent people are not murdered by the state for a crime they had no part of."
Both Cisowski and Mueller agreed, though, that Dugan's primary objective was to save his own neck. Dugan would only officially confess if prosecutors took the death penalty off the table. Otherwise, his words - written or spoken - could not be used against him.
The other men, including Rolando Cruz, were exonerated in 1995. Prosecutors indicted Dugan in 2005 citing, in part, improved DNA technology.
Patrick King, who was among seven DuPage County law enforcement officials acquitted in 1999 of trying to railroad Cruz, testified Thursday that Dugan's errors gave them pause, but the lead wasn't totally abandoned.
In fact, in March 1986, Tom and Pat Nicarico allowed authorities to exhume Jeanine's body to corroborate part of Dugan's incorrect statement about toenail polish and also to compare her hair with one found on a blindfold.
The exhumation was set for Good Friday, in a Catholic cemetery, until the Nicaricos objected. But that wasn't the worst part. The couple later learned authorities amputated Jeanine's hands and much of her scalp for evidence purposes. The family had her hands cremated.
The Nicaricos, who support Dugan's execution, long sought to learn the truth of what really happened to their child, no matter how painful the reality.
The jury returns Tuesday, as the sentencing hearing enters its fifth week, in Wheaton.