Getting away with murder the Chicago Way

On a warm spring night in 2004, David Koschman, a 21 year old from the Chicago suburb of  Mount Prospect, IL got together with 4 of his friends and headed for downtown Chicago and famed Rush Street to take in the bars and the nightlife. It's a ritual most suburban kids have indulged in for decades.

But on that night, after leaving a bar at 3:00 AM, Koschman and his friends got into an altercation with 4 other people walking down Rush Street. One punch to the face of Koschman sent him tumbling backward to the ground where he hit his head on the pavement. He died 12 days later.

For 7 years, Chicago police considered this murder "unsolved" despite the fact that the identity of the attacker was known to them. Police determined that Richard "RJ" Vanecko, nephew of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, threw the punch that killed Koschman, but that Vanecko, who had 10 years, several inches, and 100 pounds on the victim, was only defending himself.

It wasn't until 2011 when a Chicago Sun Times reporter requested all police reports on the incident through the state's freedom of information act that the police decided to "reinvestigate" the crime.

Was there a cover-up. Was evidence manufactured?. Were false statements given?  Was there interference in a police investiation? A Special Prosecutor, Dan Webb, released a 162 page report that exonerated the police and Mayor Daley.

Would you expect anything else in Chicago?

The rot, corruption, and naked exercise of power the reporter uncovered shocked the city:

Police and prosecutors say that’s because their initial investigation concluded that Koschman was the aggressor and that whoever hit him acted in self-defense.

Still, nearly seven years after the April 25, 2004, confrontation that left Koschman mortally injured, the Chicago Police Department has decided to reinvestigate the case. Investigators began reinterviewing witnesses after a Chicago Sun-Times reporter filed a request Jan. 4 seeking copies of all police reports in the case, under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.


The Cook County state’s attorney’s office says it stands by its initial conclusion that no one should be charged. Though its files are missing, officials say the original prosecutor who recommended no charges be filed still works there. They would not identify him.

“They declined charges, but they can’t find the file?” said Richard Kling, a criminal-defense attorney who is a law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. “I’ve been doing this for 39 years, literally thousands of cases. I’ve never seen a felony-review file missing. Ever. Never heard of one.

“There’s certainly some red flags,” said Kling. “Like not investigating the case earlier, a missing felony-review file, transferring the case from one area to another and not having lineups until a month later.”

Among the Sun-Times’ findings:

The police reinterviewed Koschman’s four friends on Jan. 17 — one day before the department said in a letter to the Sun-Times that it could not release any information on “crime-scene details, witness and suspect names and statements” because of “the department’s ongoing criminal investigation.’’

Vanecko and one of his three companions ran off after Koschman was hit, according to witnesses and the police. It’s unclear where or when the police found them.

Vanecko declined to talk with the police, though his friends did.

Nearly a month after Koschman was punched, Vanecko appeared in a police lineup at which Koschman’s four friends and another witness could not identify him as one of those involved in the confrontation. One of Koschman’s friends says a detective recently told him that Vanecko had changed his appearance in that time, shaving his head. Also, the friend says the man who struck Koschman wore a hat, though no one wore a hat in the lineup. Koschman’s friends did identify Vanecko’s two male companions as having been present that night but said those men didn’t punch Koschman.

Finally, Vanecko was brought to trial earlier this year. The plea deal says a lot about justice in Chicago. In exchange for pleading guilty, Uncle Hizzoner's little boy will spend 60 days in jail and 30 months on probation, pay a $20,000 restitution and apologize to Koschman's mother. For comparison purposes, you get a 2 year minimum sentence for illegal possession of a firearm.

Mrs. Koschman has filed a civil suit in federal court against, well, everybody:

Chicago police fabricated evidence and conspired with City Hall and county prosecutors to protect then-Mayor Richard Daley’s “political dynasty” by covering up the involvement of Daley’s nephew in a 2004 killing, a federal lawsuit by the victim’s mother alleged Monday.

The suit, which relies heavily on the findings of special prosecutor Dan Webb, also alleged that Daley and certain family members, friends and associates gave “false, misleading and incomplete statements” as part of Webb’s investigation into David Koschman’s death.

More than 25 defendants were named in the suit, including the City of Chicago, Cook County, former police Superintendents Phil Cline and Jody Weis, numerous other former high-level police officials, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, former State’s Attorney Dick Devine and Daley’s nephew, Richard Vanecko, who is serving a 60-day sentence for the involuntary manslaughter.

Noticeably absent was Daley himself, though the suit referred to three unnamed Daley family members, listing them only as “John Does.” At a press conference, lawyers for Koschman’s mother, Nanci, implied the former mayor and other family members could be added as defendants after they gather more information.

Nanci Koschman told reporters Monday that she decided to file the lawsuit after being shocked to learn from Webb’s voluminous report how her son’s death was treated by the Police Department and the state’s attorney’s office.

“After I read this report several times, I realized that my fight was not over,” she said. “…It seems to me they did everything in their powers to just make this case go away.”

“There is no bringing my son back, and that’s all I really, truly want,” she said. “But maybe my small voice can be heard to make a change for future Davids.”

You feel for the bereaved mother but if the murderer of "future Davids" happens to be well connected to the Chicago Machine, nothing is likely to change.


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