Ill. jury gives man life in 7 restaurant killingsCHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois jury decided Tuesday that a former handyman will spend the rest of his life in prison, rather than be sent to death row, for the 1993 slayings of seven people at a suburban Chicago restaurant.
CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago jury decided Tuesday that a former handyman will spend the rest of his life in prison, rather than be sent to death row, for the 1993 slayings of seven people at a suburban restaurant.
The jurors last month convicted James Degorski, 37, in the grisly killings at Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine and found him eligible for the death penalty. But they spared his life — just as another jury did two years ago when Degorski's accomplice, Juan Luna, was sentenced to life in prison after one juror refused to vote for the death penalty.
The final vote in Degorski's case was 10-2 for the death penalty, jury forewoman Cynthia Rathburn told reporters. By law, the vote for capital punishment must be unanimous.
Degorski's mother expressed relief that her son's life was spared.
``I appreciate the jury's decision,' Patricia Degorski said. ``My heart goes out to what the families of the victims have been through with this whole trial.'
The restaurant's owners and five employees were shot and stabbed and their bodies stacked in a walk-in cooler and freezer during a botched January 1993 robbery that netted less than $2,000. The murders kept the small town on edge for almost a decade before Degorski's former girlfriend came forward.
In Luna's case, investigators had a palm print and DNA that put him at the crime scene. Luna also gave police a lengthy videotaped statement in which he implicated himself and Degorski.
But there was no physical evidence tying Degorski to the scene and prosecutors had to rely on the testimony of witnesses — including his former girlfriend Anne Lockett — who said both men confessed their roles just after the crime.
Lockett testified that it took her so long to go to police because Degorski and Luna had threatened to kill her.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, witnesses, including Patricia Degorski, told jurors that James Degorski grew up in a home with a violent, sexually abusive father who would occasionally tie his children to a bedpost to beat them.
But Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Tom Biesty said Degorski showed no mercy toward the victims: restaurant owners Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50, his wife, Lynn Ehlenfeldt, 49, and employees Michael Castro, 16, Rico Solis, 17, Marcus Nellsen, 31, Thomas Mennes, 32, and Guadalupe Maldonado, 46.
Luna himself told authorities Degorski had ordered him to watch Lynn Ehlenfeldt during the attack. Luna allegedly admitted he ``got caught up in it' and cut her throat. But he claimed Degorski shot and killed everyone else.