Most jurors wanted the death penalty

Published: 10/20/2009 10:33 PM | Updated: 10/20/2009 10:34 PM

The first thing the jurors did in the deliberation room Tuesday was take a vote. Did James Degorski deserve to die for killing seven people in Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine?

Eight out of the 12 jurors voted yes. Four were undecided.

During the next five hours, the six men and six women heatedly discussed the case and ultimately compromised to a punishment they all could agree on: life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"It kind of heated up in the jury room ... he should have gotten the death sentence," said juror Elaine Maley, 51, of Chicago, one of those who originally favored death for Degorski but agreed a life sentence was a fair compromise.

"Yes, it got a little heated and frustrating," added Cynthia Rathburn, the jury's forewoman. "We agreed we were not going to agree."

The jurors knew Degorski's cohort, Juan Luna, received a life sentence for his role in the murders, but it didn't factor much into their decision. What spared Degorski's life were the witnesses the defense put on the stand during the sentencing hearing, jurors said.

Juror Alex Drott, 29, of Northbrook, said the testimony by numerous psychologists was "enlightening in terms of the family culture he came from." However, it didn't overcome the "heinousness" of the crime, he said.

"We felt in our hearts that (Degorski) had a troubled childhood, but it gave no reason for killing seven people," added Maley.

Juror Thomas A. White, 60, of Orland Park, also supported the death penalty at first.

Asked whether he might have made up his mind prematurely about the death penalty, White said: "Not at all. I just think sometimes it was prolonged too far. I think the trial could have been at least five days quicker."

White said court officials questioned him Tuesday about his body language and facial expressions in the jury box, but he explained that he was frustrated at the defense for "going way, way overboard" with its argument.

"Some of the lawyers, I think, like to hear themselves talk," White said.

As for the trial, jurors agreed that the testimony by Anne Lockett England and Eileen Bakala led to the swift and unanimous guilty verdict. The women, who testified Degorski told them he committed the crime, knew too many little details, such as the wedge used to keep the employee entrance blocked, the jurors said.

"Without Anne, you never would have had him," White said.

The jurors also felt the police and prosecution both did a good job with the case. Neither the lack of a videotaped confession nor police errors seemed to factor much into the decision.

"Seven people were killed. That was my biggest factor," White said. "I think the defense went a little overboard on how the police did it. I don't think there were a whole bunch of errors. The man confessed."

The jury believed Degorski was the mastermind of this case, Maley added, and after the trial was over, one of the jurors asked the judge about the confession, saying they would have liked to heard it.

Jurors interviewed Tuesday night said their group got along well during the nearly two months they were together. Maley referred to them as "her brothers and sisters," and played cards and ordered pizza together.

Alternate juror Marina Mondello, of Oak Park, did not participate in the deliberations but described the jurors as "a great group of people."

"I support their decision," she said.

Staff Writers Jamie Sotonoff, Marni Pyke, Madhu Krishnamurthy and Jameel Naqvi contributed to this report.