Former Girlfriend of Murder Suspect Testifies

Anne Lockett says James Degorski confessed to murders

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Verna Sadock
    Anne Lockett testifies when Juan Luna was tried in 2007.

    The prosecution has put one of its star witnesses on the stand at the trial of a man accused of killing seven people at a suburban Chicago restaurant 16 years ago.

    The former girlfriend of James Degorski spoke calmly Wednesday. She told jurors her then-boyfriend described taking part in the killings at a Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine shortly after they occurred in 1993.

    Cop Says Browns Chicken Suspect Confessed 7 Years Ago

    [CHI] Cop Says Browns Chicken Suspect Confessed 7 Years Ago
    Palatine Police Cmdr. William King says James Degorski confessed to him in 2002 after being picked up in Indiana. (Published Tuesday, Sep 8, 2009)

    Degorski, 37, is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and could be sentenced to death if he's convicted.

    Anne Lockett said the first hint of Degorski's involvement came when he called her on Jan. 9, 1993, to tell her to watch the television news -- then dominated by reports of the murders.

    "He said that 'I had done something big' and that I should watch the news that night," she said.

    Later that same month, Degorski and Juan Luna -- convicted of the murders in 2007 -- described to her how they had gone to the restaurant to rob it and kill the employees, Lockett testified.

    The motive, they allegedly told her, was partly curiosity.

    "Basically, they did it because Juan wanted to know what it was like to kill somebody and Jim helped," Lockett testified.

    Degorski also allegedly complained about Luna's sloppiness, including how he ordered and ate chicken after they entered the restaurant.

    "And Juan shot someone and hadn't finished it, so Jim did," Lockett told the courtroom.

    Killed were Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50, his wife Lynn, 49, and five of their employees: Michael Castro, 16; Rico Solis, 17; Marcus Nellsen, 31; Thomas Mennes, 32; and Guadalupe Maldonado, 46.

    Lockett explained that she only came forward with what she knew about the case a decade later because she claimed Degorski and Luna threatened to kill her if she told anyone.

    "I was very afraid he was going to kill me.  Seven people were already gone, what's one more?" she said.

    Luna was sentenced to life in prison for the killings.

    At one point, Lockett stood to identify Degorski sitting at a nearby defense table.

    A defense attorney pressed Lockett about heavy drug abuse in her teens when she dated Degorski. Lockett agreed she spent much of her time in a haze of drug highs and drunkenness.

    "The truth is there are some things you can't remember because of time blurring?" defense attorney Mark Levitt pressed.

    "Yes," Lockett replied.

    She cried toward the end of her morning testimony as she described turning to drugs because she felt ostracized and suffered from depression.

    She acknowledged that she had used an assortment of drugs from acid to cocaine to pot. She began to abuse alcohol shortly after she turned 10, she testified.

    Lockett said she tried to commit suicide six times, the first time when she was in sixth grade.

     "I was an outcast. I was fat," she told the court, dabbing tears from her face with a tissue. "I would do anything I could to feel something different than misery."

    The defense says there's no physical evidence linking their client to the murders, so Lockett's testimony -- and her credibility -- could be crucial in the jury's verdict.