Jury Selection Begins for Brown's Chicken Massacre

James Degorski charged with killing 7 in 1993

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The trial for James Degorski begins Thursday.

    The Palatine Brown's Chicken massacre that rocked the Chicagoland area 16 years ago may finally be coming to a close. 

    Jury selection has began Thursday in the case of James Degorski, the man charged in the 1993 murders of seven people at the suburban Chicago fast food restaurant.

    In a Chicago courtroom, 150 prospective jurors were given written questionnaires to fill out. They're scheduled to return Monday to be questioned by the attorneys in the case.

    Degorski is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder in the killings at the Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

    Degorski's high school friend, Juan Luna, was convicted in the murders in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison.

    Luna was a former employee of the restaurant, and he's said he and Degorski planned to rob the place because it was an easy target with little security.

    Residents woke up January 9, 1993 to hear that news that seven people had been killed at the restaurant the night before. The two owners and five employees were found stacked in a cooler and in a walk-in refrigerator.

    DNA evidence, including a partially-eaten piece of chicken and a handprint on a napkin, helped put away Juan Luna two years ago, but the case against Luna's high school friend, James Degorski, may not be as strong.

    "It's certainly a weaker case against Degorski. On the other hand, depending on how quickly it's tried, Degorski's jury is going to have been subjected to the Luna publicity," said Richard Kling with the Kent College of Law.

    Chief among that publicity is the testimony of Degorski's former girlfriend, Anne Lockett.

    It was Lockett the blew the whistle on the crime when she told police that Degorski and Luna were responsible.

    "He told me he had done something big, and to watch the news." Lockett told NBC Chicago. "I saw the lead story of the murders at Brown's Chicken. I was terrified."

    But Lockett, who was battling her own substance abuse and psychological problems, kept that secret for nine years, going to police only after she feared Degorski would go after her.

    And while the defendant will call into question the motive or interest of those testifying against him, Kling says that testimony will be damning.

    Also damning is a four minute video taped statement Degorski gave to Palatine detectives the day after he was taken into custody. Despite protests from his attorneys, that statement will be played for jurors when the trial gets underway later this month.

    The restaurant is now gone, demolished in 2001 after another business failed and the business sat empty.