Jury Awards $10M to Family of Woman Killed by Neighbor

Civil suit alleged property owner and manager didn't follow policies and procedures in screening prospective tenants

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Melissa Dorner was raped, beaten and strangled in her apartment on Jan. 24, 2005 by a neighbor who then fled to Mexico. Civil suit alleged property owner and manager didn't follow policies and procedures in screening prospective tenants.

    In two weeks, Christine Dorner will walk down the aisle to celebrate what she imagines will be one of the happiest days of her life. And yet, she recognizes, a part of her heart will ache that day, as she reflected on the murder of her sister, Melissa, nearly seven years ago.

    "My sister and I were two years and two days apart. We shared every birthday. We shared a bedroom since we were babies. So, you can’t make those relationships again. I miss her dearly," Dorner said.

    Melissa is on Christine's mind these days not just because of the impending nuptials, but also in light of a decision by a Cook County jury on Tuesday to award the Dorner family $10 million in damages as part of a wrongful death civil suit.

    It was January 23, 2005 when Dorner was brutally attacked in her Edgewater apartment by Roberto Ramirez, a neighbor whom she didn't even know. Ramirez fled to Mexico until he was captured last year and extradited to the United States.

    He pleaded guilty to charges in connection with Dorner's death and is currently serving a 50 year sentence at the Menard State Penitentiary in downstate Illinois.

    Melissa Dorner had lived in the building just five months when she was killed. She was assaulted in her previous apartment, having relocated there again, believing it was safe.

    "At this building they told her they represented to her they do screen the tenants. ... But that turned out not to be true," said Colin Dunn, Attorney of the Dorner family. "She obviously relied upon those statements to decide to live in this building."

    The family, in their civil suit, blames not just Raul Ramirez but also the building's management company, Wilmette Real Estate and Management Co., LLC, and the property owner, BCH Tower LLC, of Chicago.

    Family attorneys argued at trial that the building failed to reject Ramirez's rental application despite learning he had used a fraudulent Social Security Number when applying for his lease.

    Christine Dorner hopes her sister's legacy gets others to do their homework when looking for a new apartment.

    "I'd just like to let everyone know that they need to understand where they're moving into. Take a look at the policies and procedures. Young people, old people. It's important to know where you’re moving into," she said.

    Dunn told NBC Chicago it's unlikely his clients will ever get the bulk of the verdict. The reason: the jury found the building management and the property owner responsible for 10 percent of damages, with Ramirez liable for 90 percent of the $10 million.

    An attorney for the corporate entities of this case said his clients may pursue an appeal.

    "We strongly disagree with the verdict," said attorney Jonathan Goken.