Degorski Jury Set to Tackle Death Penalty

Juan Luna was spared the death penalty

By Andrew Greiner
|  Wednesday, Sep 30, 2009  |  Updated 12:54 PM CDT
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James Degorski's mug shot.

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Attorneys React to Guilty Verdict

After deliberating less than two hours, a jury unanimously found James Degorski guilty of killing seven people in a Palatine restaurant 16 years ago.
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The jury deliberated for just two hours over a guilty verdict for James Degorski, the former handyman who helped kill seven people at a Palatine Brown's Chicken restaurant in 1993.

Now the question is, will they be so quick to sentence him to death?

Juan Luna, a high school friend of Degorski, also was convicted of the same crime in 2007, but he was spared the death penalty.

Jurors did find Luna eligible for the death penalty, but while 11 of 12 jurors voted to send him to death row, the holdout vote meant he was sentenced to life in prison.

Capital punishment foes lauded the Luna jury's decision as a sign that wrongful conviction cases in Illinois made jurors less apt to support death sentences. The state has not carried out any executions since then-Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium in 2000.

Today a set of Degorski's peers will tackle the capital punishment issue again.

Under state law, the death penalty can be imposed if the person convicted of murder is over 18 and the killings were committed during the course of another felony. In this case Degorski and Luna were robbing the Browns Chicken Restaurant at the time. The jury can also consider if the crime was committed in a cold and calculating manner and if two or more people were killed by Degorski.

If the jury finds Degorski eligible for the death penalty, they will still decide if that should be his sentence in the third phase of this trial.

Degorski, 37, showed no emotion as the guilty verdict was read in a Chicago courtroom Tuesday. About 20 of the victims' family members, who sat holding hands and crying, left the courthouse without commenting after being told by the judge that doing so would preclude them from testifying at Degorski's sentencing hearing.

Degorski's conviction came despite a lack of physical evidence linking him to the crime, something public defender Mark Levitt noted in closing arguments earlier Tuesday.

Degorski and Luna were arrested in May 2002 after Anne Lockett came forward. She said it took her a decade to do so because the men had threatened to kill her.

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