It was a horrible day in Palatine, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in the winter of 1993 and it wasn’t just because of the weather. There was a robbery at the Brown’s Chicken franchise where the culprits escaped with a mere $2,000, leaving behind seven corpses and a piece of chicken with human saliva on it.
The case went cold for nine years until a woman told police that her boyfriend, Juan Luna, was involved. Sure enough, with DNA advances, the authorities were able to detect Mr. Luna’s DNA on a piece of frozen chicken and after a trial in 2007, he was convicted of seven murders, narrowly escaping the death penalty by a jury vote of 11-1.
Luna fingered his co-accused, James Degorski, who was also arrested for the murders and upon arriving at the Cook County Jail was severely beaten by jail guard and Cook County deputy, Thomas Wilson.
Mr. Degorski suffered serious facial fractures requiring the insertion of two metal plates in his face. He was also convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole in 2009.
Guard Wilson took a leave and two years later was fired by Cook County, but not before his acquittal for assault causing bodily harm on the basis of self-defence.
Nonetheless, Mr. Degorski sued Cook County and Mr. Wilson in a civil suit seeking damages and compensation for his injuries, a case that saw a jury award this week of almost half a million dollars in his favour.
The jury obviously didn’t believe that Thomas Wilson struck Mr. Degorski in self-defence and despite protestations by Wilson’s lawyer, were not told he had murdered seven people, two store owners, and five employees ages 16 to 46 years old. They were told, however, that he was a convicted murderer.
To say that the families of the victims are unhappy with Degorski’s windfall is an understatement. However, they can take some comfort in the knowledge that Mr. Wilson’s lawyer has agreed to represent each one of the victims’ families for free by filing wrongful death actions against Degorski seeking compensation.
As well, the law in Illinois provides that if an inmate has money, the State can take all funds, with the exception of $15,000, to pay for the prisoner’s expenses for room and board.
What seems like a dangerous precedent is simply the mechanics of the civil law which provides compensation for injured persons, even if they are mass murderers.
As for Brown’s, the store closed after the murders, and almost 100 more franchises in the Chicago area went under after the unspeakable events of January 1993.