Justice has finally come for 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico.
Brian Dugan, the 52-year-old Aurora man who admitted to raping and killing the Naperville girl, pleaded guilty to the 1983 murder on Tuesday in hopes of saving himself from the death penalty.
Shackled at the wrists and feet, Dugan stood before a judge and admitted murdering Nicarico, assuring that "no one aided, abetted or helped me." It was a claim he had been making since 1985.
Dugan was previously convicted of murder and sex attacks on young women and is currently serving two life terms for killings of Geneva nurse Donna Schnorr and 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk.
The case helped lead to landmark reforms in Illinois after two other men endured multiple trials, death sentences and more than 10 years in prison before being cleared. As evidence increasingly pointed to Dugan, seven law enforcement officials went on trial for their handling of the case. All were acquitted.
One of two men who faced the death penalty, Rolando Cruz, said he feels no sympathy for Dugan.
"I got locked up when I was 20 years old," Cruz said. "He's a disgusting animal. He asked for it when he raped and killed those girls, he asked and begged for it."
Dugan admitted to the kidnapping, rape and murder of Nicarico under hypnosis 24 years ago. It was that, along with DNA evidence, which helped exonerate Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez.
"He knew the clothes she was wearing. He knew amazingly how the blindfold was constructed, " said Rob Warden of the Center for Wrongful Convictions. "We know that DNA implicated Brian Dugan, linked the crime to Brian Dugan -- and Brian Dugan alone."
Former Gov. George Ryan cited the case as one of several that led to his decision to stop all Illinois executions in 2000. The death-penalty moratorium remains in place, though death sentences may still be issued.
Jeanine was home sick from school in suburban Naperville when someone kicked down her door and snatched her. She struggled so desperately her fingernails left scratches on a wall. Her raped and beaten body was found two days later in a nearby nature preserve, her head wrapped in a towel bound with tape, which had served as a blindfold.
The Nicaricos, who have since moved from Illinois, rarely speak publicly of their daughter's death. But when they have, they also have suggested the men initially charged were involved.
A jury will decide in September if Dugan will face the death penalty.