Defense Paints Degorski as Sympathetic

Peters was one of a half dozen witnesses called by Degorski's attorneys

By Andrew Greiner
|  Tuesday, Oct 6, 2009  |  Updated 3:29 PM CDT
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James Degorski's former girlfriend did her best Monday to soften his image before a jury decides if he should die. 

She testified during his sentencing hearing that he was gentle and hard working.

"James Degorski the man is probably the man, if you were a mother, you'd want him as your son," said 38-year-old Jennifer Peters.

Defense attorneys are trying to portray the 37-year-old Degorski, who was found guilty last week of killing seven people in the 1993 Browns Chicken Massacre, as a sympathetic figure who deserves a life sentence without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty.

But they'll have to get the argument past the same jury that took less than two hours to reach its verdict and  also quickly found Degorski eligible for the death penalty.

Peters was one of a half dozen witnesses called by Degorski's attorneys, including four Cook County correctional officers who described Degorski as a model inmate since his arrest in 2002.

"He has never given me a problem," said Officer Jose Reyes, who works in the Cook County jail. Reyes said Degorski has been so well behaved that he gave Degorski small jobs that allow him to move around in the jail without handcuffs or leg restraints.

Last week, prosecutors called several witnesses, including family members of the people Degorski was convicted of killing, who testified about their loved ones and how the murders devastated their families. One ex-girlfriend, Kristin Smith, said Degorski punched her and on one occasion tied her hands and feet with duct tape, even putting duct tape on her mouth for a short time.

But on Monday, defense attorneys called witnesses who characterized Degorski as gentle and even docile before and after his arrest.

Peters, who smiled and waved to Degorski when she was asked to identify him in court, said she did not believe he was guilty of killing anyone, calling the case against him "disgusting."

Peters, who dated Degorski and lived with him at various times between the time of the slayings and his arrest, said he never hit her and that she never saw him hit anyone, including a woman he dated previously.

Peters said that when she yelled at Degorski, "Jim was the kind of man who would just take it."

Peters said Degorski was very close with his family members, particularly his siblings. But she said the family kept whatever troubles they had so private that she did not even know until much later that one of Degorski's sisters, whom she described as one of her best friends, was living in her car and not inside the family house.

Defense attorneys have promised jurors they will hear about what went on in that house, and what one of attorney called the "horrific" abuse Degorski suffered as a child. Jurors have not been told who will testify. The sentencing phase of the trial is expected to last the rest of the week.
 

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