Palatine cops' say moral to Brown's case: 'It's never too late to call'

  • Palatine Police Cmdr. Bill King, left, and Chief John Koziol walk through the lobby of the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago moments before a jury sentenced James Degorski to life in prison without parole on Tuesday.

    Palatine Police Cmdr. Bill King, left, and Chief John Koziol walk through the lobby of the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago moments before a jury sentenced James Degorski to life in prison without parole on Tuesday. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Published: 10/23/2009 12:03 AM

Palatine Police Chief John Koziol remembers the first time he laid eyes on the men responsible for the grisliest crime in Northwest suburban history.

"I finally met the beings that killed seven innocent souls and thought, 'This is it? These are the guys that did this to these poor people? They're a couple of losers who never did anything decent in their lives.' I felt disgust, and a lot of hate and vengeance."

That anger will likely never fully subside, but Koziol said he's grateful the victims' families are suffering a little less now that both Juan Luna and James Degorski will spend the rest of their lives behind bars. Luna was convicted and sentenced in 2007. Degorski's jury declared his sentence on Tuesday, following an eight-week trial.

Previously, Koziol and Palatine Police Cmdr. William King, the investigator to whom Degorski confessed in 2002, have been bound by a court-imposed gag order and could not discuss the case. That changed on Tuesday, when a jury sentenced Degorski to life in prison without parole, just like his accomplice. They're thankful for the guilty verdicts, but disappointed the pair wasn't sentenced to death.

"We have total respect for the jury and the system," Koziol said. "There was just so much human suffering, we were hoping for a different outcome."

In the moments before the court clerk read the verdict earlier this month, Koziol said he thought about how the victims' immediate families filled nearly half of the courtroom.

"They've always had poise and dignity from the early years all the way through the verdict," Koziol said. "They always supported us, even when we didn't have answers for them. I think they're afraid we'll forget their loved ones now that this is over, but we never will."

Though he never felt hopeless, King said he often "got that jaded feeling," especially Monday mornings when, often, domestic disputes over the weekend led to people pinning the Brown's murders on their significant others.

"It happened all the time," King said. "And you have to investigate it. You always hoped it'd be the one."

Answers finally came in the form of lead No. 4,842: a call regarding Degorski and Luna.

Koziol lauds the two women who provided the long-awaited break in the case. Melissa Oberle called police after learning details of the crime from Degorski's ex-girlfriend, Anne Lockett England.

Koziol won't comment on who he thinks should receive a $98,000 reward established in the case, but he said England's name doesn't belong in the same sentence as that of Eileen Bakala, a Degorski friend who testified against him and Luna but also kept the pair's confession secret for nine years.

"Anne came forward through Melissa and was extremely cooperative. She did everything we asked of her," Koziol said. "Eileen on the other hand, we had to go find. Her reason for not coming forward was her deep friendship with Degorski, not fear."

Koziol clarified that neither woman received immunity, though Bakala did get a letter from prosecutors stating she wasn't the target of their investigation. In fact, he said they couldn't come up with a charge even if they tried.

"There's a misconception that knowing something about a crime is itself a crime, but legally people can keep these dark secrets to themselves and never come forward," Koziol said. "If there's any sort of moral to this story, it's that it's never too late to call."

In the years following the murders, the Palatine Police Department and task force were sometimes portrayed as inept - a theme the defense continued to pound throughout both trials. Yet Koziol said he refuses to publicly take shots at the media or anyone who was critical.

"Dredging that up ends up trivializing the crime and what really went on in that restaurant," he said. "This has always been about those seven innocent souls and to use your energy on anything else isn't productive."

Again and again, Koziol and King expressed their gratitude to the victims' families, state's attorneys, state's attorneys investigators and the task force.

"They put their hearts and souls into this case just like we did," Koziol said. "Those poor people couldn't have had more capable advocates working on their behalf."