“My son didn’t have a chance," said Nanci Koschman.
For seven years, she's tried to rebuild the shattered pieces of her life. On April 25, 2004, at 3:15 in the morning, her only son David was punched in the face following a night on the town.
David and four friends, all just 21, had been partying along the bars of Division Street.
That same night R.J. Vanecko and three companions were also walking along Division Street when the two groups bumped into each other.
Tempers flared. Words were exchanged. And then one punch was thrown.
David Koschman, struck in the face, fell to the ground striking his head. Twelve days later he was dead, after brain and heart surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital failed.
“We made the decision to turn off life support and let him go. And I sat and held him ‘til his heart stopped,” Nanci Koschman said.
The Cook County Medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.
“Homicide means somebody killed somebody else,” said Richard Kling, a long time defense attorney and Professor at Kent College of Law.
“Everyone just thinks he was this young punk from the suburbs coming down to Chicago to create trouble.” Said Nanci Koschman, “ and that wasn’t what he was doing.”
That night Richard Vanecko and the three people with him were coming from an engagement party.
R.J., as he is known, was named after his grandfather, the late mayor Richard J. Daley.
Back in 1992 Vanecko pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges following a brawl at his uncle, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Michigan vacation home in which a teenager was beaten with a baseball bat. Court records showed he held a shotgun during the incident.
By all accounts, David Koschman had no criminal history.
On Division Street, in 2004, on the night in question police said everyone was drunk.
Chicago police concluded that David Koschman was the aggressor that night. But David’s friends contradict the police account. They say David neither lunged at nor threatened the man who struck him. They claim their friend was sucker punched.
One month after the punch was thrown, at Area Three Chicago police called Vanecko and his companions in for a lineup. But David Koschman’s friends could not positively identify who threw the punch.
“Witnesses’ memories fade with time,” said Kling, who is not associated with the case. “I would have liked to have seen what the people looked like at the time the incident occurred and whether they looked the same, 25 days later.”
Nanci Koschman said she also went to Area 3 looking for answers. But police, she said, would not reveal the identities of anyone.
“I was told that I would be very impressed by the names of the people who were involved,” she said.
Who told her that? The detective in charge of the investigation.
“He turned the whole thing to my son started it,” she said, adding the detective told her son got what he deserved. “And I didn’t think he did. I don’t think anybody deserves to get punched.”
One more thing: this case was sent to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office of Felony Review, standard procedure in a homicide. But in what is described as a remarkable development, that case file is nowhere to be found, according to authorities. It is missing.
“I’ve been doing this for 39 years, literally thousands of cases, I’ve never seen a felony review file missing, ever,” said Kling.
R.J. Vanecko declined to speak to police in 2004. He did not respond to our interview requests. Chicago police say the case was handled fair and impartially.
While the State’s Attorneys Office said in a written statement all the witnesses they spoke to said the punch was thrown in self-defense. David Koschman’s friends say that is not true.
No one argues the punch that night on Division Street was ever intended to kill David Koschman.
Nanci Koschman says she understands that.
But what she doesn’t understand is something that has haunted her for seven long years.
"I want them to say they are sorry," she said through tears. "I want somebody, nobody’s ever said they are sorry, that they killed my son."