DOES GRAND JURY HAVE KOSCHMAN VIDEO?
Published Aug. 6, 2012
By TIM NOVAK, CHRIS FUSCO AND CAROL MARIN
No one will say whether the grand jury turned up any video of Koschman or Daley nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko – and, if it has, where those videos have been for the past eight years.
No videos had surfaced prior to the grand jury investgation, which began three months ago. But now the operators of some of Chicago’s most-storied late-night bars say they’ve been subpoened by the grand jury led by Special Prosecutor Dan K. Webb.
The bars – Butch McGuire’s, Mother’s and The Lodge, among others – also have been asked to produce credit card receipts that could identify witnesses to the early-morning confrontation of April 25, 2004, when the police say Vanecko struck Koschman during an argument on Division Street near Dearborn.
Webb, a former U.S. attorney, is using the grand jury to gather evidence and decide whether criminal charges should be filed against Vanecko or anyone else in Koschman’s death – and whether police and prosecutors didn’t file charges against Vanecko because of his ties to Daley.
“We’ve received subpoenas, and we’ve answered the subpoenas as best we could,” says Dan Benson, human resources administrator for The Lodge Management Group, which runs five Division Street bars, including Mother’s and The Lodge. “Whatever we had, we turned over.”
Benson says the grand jury was looking for video and documents. He won’t say whether his company turned over any video of Koschman and the drunken confrontation with Vanecko, who the police have said jumped in a cab with a friend and took off as Koschman lay in the street.
“I can’t talk about that,” says Benson. “It’s under investigation by a grand jury.”
He also won’t say whether his company previously turned over video to the Chicago Police Department during the original investigation of Koschman’s death, completed in 2004.
Asked whether his bars keep video from that far back, Benson says, “Not in general. We don’t keep them that long.”
Butch McGuire’s also was subpoenaed for video and credit card receipts.
“We did have a subpoena,” says Dominique Simonetti, a Butch McGuire’s manager. “We had nothing to give them.”
Simonetti says the bar didn’t have video cameras in 2004.
Webb won’t talk about the case.
Koschman, 21, of Mount Prospect, and four friends bumped into Vanecko, then 29, and three of his friends on the sidewalk on the south side of Division west of Dearborn. The 5-foot-5, 140-pound Koschman and one of Vanecko’s companions got into an argument. It ended, the police say, when the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Vanecko punched Koschman in the face, causing him to fall and crack his head on the street. Hospitalized in a coma, Koschman died 11 days later.
Though the police concluded their investigation in 2004 without seeking criminal charges against anyone, the case remained on the books as an unsolved homicide until the Chicago Sun-Times asked to see the case file in January 2011, four months before Daley left office.
That request sparked a reinvestigation by the police. This time, they concluded that Vanecko threw the punch. But they also decided that Vanecko – who was never interviewed by the police – had acted in self-defense and shouldn’t be charged. They closed the case on March 1, 2011.
Ten days later, the Sun-Times filed a public records request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act asking to see any videos the police might have obtained during their now-closed investigation. The confrontation between Koschman and Vanecko had occurred outside a Starbucks and across the street from a Walgreens and Fifth-Third Bank – all businesses that have video surveillance cameras.
The police department denied the request for videos. It didn’t give any explanation.
None of the police reports from the nine detectives who investigated Koschman’s death in 2004 mention whether surveillance tapes existed or whether the police looked for video back then.
After he was punched, Koschman never regained consciousness.
The two detectives originally assigned to the case – Rita O’Leary and Robert Clemens – were on it for one day, then went on vacation.
No one worked the case again until May 10, 2004 – four days after Koschman died, according to police records. Then, Detective Ronald E. Yawger and other homicide investigators were assigned to the case.
“I don’t think there was any surveillance out there,” Yawger, who has since retired from the police department, said in an interview last year. “If they didn’t do it right away, I’m sure it didn’t get done.”
The newspaper also turned up other problems with the way the case was handled, including missing case files in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
Those stories prompted Koschman’s mother, Nanci Koschman, to go to court seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor. In March, Cook County Circuit Judge Michael P. Toomin agreed, and he assigned the case to Webb on April 23.
It’s unclear whether the grand jury has subpoenaed other businesses in addition to the bars. Asked if Starbucks was subpoenaed, a company spokeswoman would only refer any questions to the police or the special prosecutor. A spokesman for Walgreens says the company hasn’t received a subpoena and, “to the best of our knowledge,” was never asked to turn over surveillance to the police from 2004.
Koschman and his friends had been drinking at the old Bar Chicago, 9 W. Division, before running into Vanecko’s group. At the time, Bar Chicago – now known as Detention – was a client of Vanecko’s older brother, Mark Vanecko, an attorney who was working then for his family’s law firm, Daley & George.
Mark Vanecko was the bar’s registered agent between 2000 and 2008, when its owners sold the business to Pera M. Odishoo. Mark Vanecko is no longer the bar’s registered agent and hasn’t been for three years.
Odishoo says he hasn’t gotten any subpoenas from Webb’s grand jury.
Mark Vanecko didn’t respond to messages seeking comment about whether Bar Chicago turned over any video to the police in 2004.