Mom asks for special prosecutor
Originally published Dec. 15, 2011
BY TIM NOVAK and CHRIS FUSCO
More than seven years after her 21-year-old son David Koschman died as the result of a punch thrown by a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, Nanci Koschman asked Wednesday for the appointment of a special prosecutor to re-examine the entire case, asserting that criminal charges would have been filed long ago if not for the Daley family connection.
The Mount Prospect woman asked Chief Cook County Criminal Courts Judge Paul Biebel Jr. to name an independent, outside prosecutor to investigate David Koschman’s 2004 death after being punched in the face by Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko and determine whether criminal charges should be filed against Vanecko.
She also asked that the special prosecutor examine the conduct of the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office in investigating the death, which at various points was labeled by authorities as a homicide case and a murder but never resulted in any criminal charges.
“Had Vanecko not been a member of the powerful Daley family, he would have been charged with the homicide,” Koschman says in court papers filed on behalf of her, her sister Susan Pazderski and brother-in-law Richard Pazderski by attorneys Locke E. Bowman and Alexa Van Brunt of Northwestern University Law School’s Roderick MacArthur Justice Center and G. Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office. “Mr. Vanecko is not entitled to escape prosecution simply because he is the nephew of former Mayor Daley.”
PDF: Koschman petition for special prosecutor
The court filing has harsh words for the conduct of the police and prosecutors, citing one by name — assistant state’s attorney Darren O’Brien, who originally was consulted by the police in determining that no charges would be filed.
“The handling of this matter by the Chicago police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office raises questions that cry out for objective, unbiased investigation,” the attorneys write, “including a.) whether police investigators prepared false official reports; b.) whether police investigators, ASA O’Brien and/or other employees of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office conspired to cover up Mr. Vanecko’s criminal responsibility for Koschman’s death; and c.) whether Mr. Vanecko should be charged in connection with that death.”
Appointing a special prosecutor would be an unusual step but not without precedent. Ten years ago, Bowman and Taylor filed a similar petition that resulted in Biebel naming a special prosecutor to investigate torture allegations leveled against the Chicago Police Department and former police Cmdr. Jon Burge. Though the special prosecutor determined that no charges could be filed because so much time had passed, Burge was convicted in federal court of perjury for lying in sworn testimony about allegations he presided over the torture of criminal suspects from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Burge is serving a four-year prison sentence.
Koschman, who lived with his mother in Mount Prospect and was a part-time college student, died on May 6, 2004, of brain injuries that resulted from being punched in the face in a drunken confrontation on Division Street near Dearborn Street in the early-morning hours of April 25, 2004.
His death was listed by the police as an open and unsolved homicide until early this year, when detectives re-examined the case and ultimately closed it without seeking criminal charges but, for the first time, identified Vanecko, who was 29 at the time of the confrontation, as having thrown the deadly punch.
The police reinvestigated the case after the Chicago Sun-Times filed a request to examine police files in Koschman’s death.
In more than two dozen reports published since Feb. 28, the newspaper uncovered problems with the way the investigation was handled and revealed that the Cook County state’s attorney’s office — though initially involved in deciding not to file criminal charges — was now unable to find its files on the politically charged case.
The Sun-Times investigation — which the court filing Wednesday cites extensively — also found that:
One of two bystanders described by prosecutors as the only “unbiased witnesses” said it was a “flat-out lie” that the 5-foot-5, 140-pound Koschman had been the aggressor in the confrontation with the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Vanecko and that Vanecko acted only in self-defense, as the police and prosecutors maintained.
Two Koschman friends who were with him that night said they never told detectives some of the things the police said they did.
Vanecko ran off with one of his friends and hopped in a taxi after punching Koschman.
One of Vanecko’s friends had lied to the police — twice — about what happened the night of the confrontation.
The police closed their reinvestigation even though some of its files on the case were missing and hadn’t been reviewed by the detective handling the new investigation.
One of the key missing documents included a notation that one of the witnesses had told the police Vanecko was acting in a “very aggressive” manner toward Koschman in the moments before punching him. That statement — which was scratched out on the detective’s report of what the witness told him — was the first official indication that the police had ever been told anything that contradicted their conclusion that Koschman had been the aggressor.
The Sun-Times investigation has prompted an ongoing investigation by Joseph Ferguson, the city of Chicago’s inspector general, into how the police handled the case. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office is assisting Ferguson.
A special prosecutor — rather than Alvarez — should oversee any new investigation, Nanci Koschman’s lawyers maintain, because Alvarez and her attorney’s office have too many conflicts of interest concerning the case, having declined to file charges seven years ago and asserting that there’s still no reason to charge anyone.
“State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez retains a clear political — and personal — interest in the case,” the petition says. “Despite the suspicious circumstances surrounding the Koschman investigation, Alvarez has publicly defended the work of the Chicago police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s felony review unit, insisting to Sun-Times reporters that there was insufficient evidence to charge Vanecko.
“Alvarez is in no position now to conduct the kind of probing and objective ‘fresh look’ that this matter so urgently requires.”
The filing zeroes in particularly on O’Brien, an assistant state’s attorney who headed the felony review unit seven years ago and determined that there wasn’t enough evidence to file charges in Koschman’s death.
“O’Brien . . . is necessarily a subject of and/or a witness in the investigation,” the Koschman family’s lawyers write.
They also question why it took seven years for the police to identify Vanecko as the man who punched Koschman.
“Despite . . . witness statements, the 2004 Chicago police investigation was closed without charges in part because the police claimed to be unable to determine the identity of the person who had thown the fatal punch,” they write. “Such a blatant failure to connect the dots has the hallmarks of an investigation governed by politics, not professionalism.”
At the time of Koschman’s death, Alvarez was chief of staff to then-Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine, a close friend of the Daley family who now, as an attorney in private practice, represents one of Vanecko’s brothers in an unrelated civil lawsuit over the investment of city pension funds.
Asked about the petition filed by the Koschman family, Alvarez’s spokeswoman, Sally Daly, said: “We received the petition late in the day . . . and we have not had the opportunity to review the details.”
Alvarez’s office has been at odds with Northwestern — attorneys Bowman and Van Brunt’s employer — over an unrelated case in which the school challenged a murder conviction, and prosecutors questioned whether student journalists at Northwestern misrepresented themselves in investigating that case.
Ferguson declined to comment. Vanecko’s attorneys, Terence Gillespie and Marc Martin, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The Better Government Association plans to file a brief supporting Nanci Koschman’s request for a special prosecutor, said Andy Shaw, the watchdog group’s president and chief executive.
“We’re not demanding that anyone be charged with a crime,” Shaw said. “We’re filing this document to make sure David Koschman’s homicide is investigated in an objective, fair way — because we’re not sure that occurred.”