Prosecutor: Cops can’t be charged
Published Sept. 19, 2013
By TIM NOVAK, CHRIS FUSCO, CAROL MARIN AND DAN MIHALOPOULOS
Nearly 10 months after former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko was indicted in the 2004 death of David Koschman, a grand jury investigation into the way police and prosecutors handled the case has ended, and no new indictments will be issued.
The 17-month-investigation led by court-appointed special prosecutor Dan K. Webb didn’t clear police and prosecutors of wrongdoing in their original investigation of Koschman’s death. Instead, Webb said Thursday in announcing the end of the probe that the statute of limitations on bringing criminal charges in that investigation had run out.
“No additional indictments have been sought because the applicable statute of limitations bars any prosecutions under state law for the Chicago Police Department and Cook County state’s attorney’s office actions taken in 2004,” Webb said in a court filing.
Webb, a former U.S. attorney, said the law that applies bars charging anyone after three years.
He also reexamined the police department’s 2011 reinvestigation of the case and found “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any state criminal law violations as to actions taken by CPD personnel in 2011.”
1. Special prosecutor Dan K. Webb's statement on Thursday's development. Read more
2. A closer look at the punch, two police investigations and the aftermath. Read more
3. Get the ebook "The Killing of David Koschman: A Watchdogs Investigation." Read more
WHERE VANECKO TRIAL STANDS
A trial date in the involuntary manslaughter case of Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko in the death of David Koschman could be set next week. Vanecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, has his next scheduled court appearance on Tuesday. In May, McHenry County Circuit Judge Maureen P. McIntyre — appointed to handle the case after the Illinois Supreme Court agreed there were too many potential conflicts of interest for the case to be heard by a Cook County judge — told attorneys to “keep January and February open.”
At Webb’s request, Cook County Circuit Judge Michael P. Toomin issued an order temporarily delaying the public release of the 162-page report on his findings. Webb said sealing the report was necessary to help ensure Vanecko, who’s charged with involuntary manslaughter, gets a fair trial.
"In some circumstances, pretrial publicity can be so intense that it threatens the ability of a defendant to select an impartial jury," Webb wrote. "While there is a strong public interest that supports the immediate release of the report, there is an overriding interest in protectng the defendant's right to a fair trial."
Vanecko, 39, is due in court next week. A trial date could be set then.
Keeping the special prosecutor’s report under seal for now leaves a host of unanswered questions, said G. Flint Taylor and Locke E. Bowman, the attorneys for Koschman’s mother, Nanci Koschman.
“We are very interested in finding out exactly what the special prosecutor found with regard to the Daley family,” said Taylor, founder of the People’s Law Office. “We want to find out whether a code of silence maintained itself within the state's attorney's office and within the police department to cover for the mayor and his family, and whether that, in fact, was one of the main reasons why, in 2004, there were not indictments brought against Vanecko.”
Bowman, director of Northwestern University's MacArthur Justice Center, added: “We don’t have answers to the questions of who in the police department was involved in this. We don't have answers to the fundamental question of how this investigation got derailed and what the role of the Daley family was in influencing that.”
Bowman also said that even if no charges can be filed, anyone who was engaged in wrongdoing could still face penalties — including firing and possibly bar sanctions.
"The special prosecutor, in effect, is saying that in 2004 there was criminal misconduct," Bowman said. “If there are people still in public service who, in 2004, were engaging in obvious acts of official misconduct, then those people . . . need to be fired."
The grand jury Webb oversaw returned the indictment against Daley's nephew on Dec. 3. Since that time, it had continued to look into the police and state’s attorney’s handling of the investigations into the 21-year-old Mount Prospect man’s death.
While Webb said that no charges could be filed regarding the original 2004 investigations because of the statute of limitations, he wrote, "There is no evidence of any kind suggesting any violations of Illinois criminal law as to actions taken by [state's attorney's office] personnel in connection with its participation in the Koschman investigation in 2011 and 2012."
A spokeswoman said Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez "is pleased that the special prosecutor makes clear . . . that there was no evidence of any kind suggesting misconduct on the part of anyone in the state's attorney's office during her administration's investigation into the Koschman matter."
In the 17 months since his appointment, Webb said he obtained information from 146 witnesses — including police, prosecutors and Chicago city officials — and reviewed 22,000 documents totaling more than 300,000 pages, including “telephone records, e-mails, police reports, policy and procedure manuals, internal memoranda, attendance records, medical records, access logs, historical cell site data, recovered computer data, video surveillance, billing records and receipts.”
Richard Devine, who was state's attorney in 2004 and had Alvarez as his chief of staff, told the Sun-Times he met twice with the special prosecutor's staff — about six weeks ago and over a year ago.
"While prosecutors can draw different conclusions from the evidence, I certainly don't believe there was anything improper done by the assistant state's attorneys," Devine said Thursday. "Based on the knowledge I have of what the prosecutors did, I did not find anything wrong or improper in their work or their conclusions."
Devine said he conveyed that view to the investigators and "answered all the questions they asked me."
He would not say what he was asked, except to say, "We had a full discussion."
Webb's assertion that the statute of limitations on any 2004 crimes expired was "a statement of law, not a statement of what they did find or didn't find," said Devine, who was second-in-command when Daley was state's attorney in the 1980s. "It's all speculation beyond that."
Former Mayor Daley had no comment on the latest developments in the case, according to a spokeswoman for the law firm where Daley has worked since leaving office in 2011.
A spokesman for Phil Cline — the police superintendent in 2004 — said Cline had no comment.
Attorney Thomas Breen, who along with Terence Gillespie and Marc W. Martin is representing Vanecko, said they had no comment.
The bill for the special prosecutor's investigation — being paid, at Toomin's order, by Cook County — amounts to more than $1 million. Webb announced in January that his law firm, Winston & Strawn, would not bill taxpayers for its services beyond that time. He continues to bill for expenses.
Koschman died 11 days after getting into an argument in the early-morning hours of April 25, 2004, and being punched in the face and knocked to the ground, striking his head on the pavement on Division Street west of Dearborn, according to police reports.
Vanecko, who was 6-foot-3 and weighed 230 pounds, is charged with causing the death of Koschman, who stood nearly a foot shorter and weighed about 100 pounds less than Vanecko.
Vanecko ran off afterward and was later identified by someone he was with that night. He refused to speak with the police, who said witnesses were unable to identify him in a lineup.