More missing files in Koschman case
Originally published July 25, 2011
By TIM NOVAK AND CHRIS FUSCO
In the latest twist in the high-profile homicide case involving a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned that the Chicago Police Department’s original files from the case were missing for months — possibly years.
It’s the second time that law-enforcement records turned up missing regarding the violent death of 21-year-old David Koschman of Mount Prospect, who succumbed to brain injuries days after getting punched in the face by Daley nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko during a drunken confrontation in the Rush Street area in April 2004.
City of Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson already has been investigating the police department’s handling of the Koschman investigation.
Now, the police department’s own Internal Affairs Division has launched a separate investigation into how the department’s original case files disappeared, a high-ranking police source said.
The police found those files somewhere inside the department’s Area 3 detective headquarters at Belmont and Western — the detective division that worked the case in 2004 — only within the past month, sources said.
That means that detectives from Area 5 — brought in early this year to reinvestigate Koschman’s death after the Sun-Times requested police reports on the case, which had been dormant for seven years — were working with an incomplete set of records when they closed the case on March 1, determining for the first time that Vanecko threw the fatal punch but deciding that he shouldn’t be charged.
Police officials would not say exactly where or when the missing case files were found, nor where they should have been stored, nor how long they are believed to have been missing.
But there was nothing in the no-longer-missing files — which turned up after Supt. Garry McCarthy took that post, replacing former Supt. Jody Weis — that would cause the department to reconsider its decision not to seek charges against Vanecko, according to the police source, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
Weis said he didn’t know that any files were missing until being asked about that by a reporter on Friday.
“It does seem unusual a file could be missing for a long time and suddenly it reappears,” said Weis, who ordered the reinvestigation of the Koschman case in January and resigned as superintendent on the day the case was closed.
“It’s an unusual development on a high-profile case that has gained a lot of publicity,” said Weis, who is now deputy director of the not-for-profit Chicago Crime Commission. “But to take this next step and say there’s something nefarious — that’s going a long way. . . . I don’t know what was missing or what was in there.”
Asked about the revelation that police files were missing and hadn’t been provided to prosecutors, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sally Daly said: “We were surprised to learn that we had not received the complete Koschman case file from the Chicago Police Department, given the fact that we had been assured that it had been provided to us in its totality. . . . Given the ongoing investigation by the city’s inspector general, the state’s attorney’s office has contacted that office to inform them of this development and to provide a copy of the materials that were presented to us . . . by the Chicago Police Department.
“We have not had the opportunity to review or assess the materials that were provided to us . . . and at this point have no additional comment as to how these new materials could have impacted an evaluation of this case.”
The Sun-Times first requested records from the case in January. Since then, the police department has made public copies of case reports but withheld other records, including detectives’ notes from the now-closed investigation.
What were supposed to have been complete sets of records were provided to the Area 5 detectives, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and the inspector general — records the police now acknowledge were incomplete.
The department won’t say what’s missing, though. Officials there cited Ferguson’s investigation and their own internal probe in refusing to describe those records or release them.
“The IG’s office has everything,” the police department source said. “We’re not trying to hide anything.”
These aren’t the first missing files in the Koschman case.
Seven years ago, the state’s attorney’s office — headed at the time by Richard Devine, a longtime political ally of the Daley family — reviewed the police department’s findings and determined there was insufficient evidence to charge Vanecko or anyone else in Koschman’s death or even to know for certain who threw the deadly punch.
But the prosecutor’s office, whose current boss, Alvarez, was Devine’s chief of staff, has said it can’t find any records showing that it reviewed the case — even though a top prosecutor met face-to-face with witnesses and detectives about it on May 20, 2004.
Devine has said he can’t explain why the state’s attorney’s office has no paperwork.
“Normally, if some matter is presented to the state’s attorney’s office — some kind of investigation or review — there’s a record that’s part of the system. I know it was brought to my attention,” said Devine, who now works for a law firm whose clients include Vanecko’s older brother, Robert Vanecko.
The state’s attorney’s office also says it has no records to show when the police sought its consultation on the Koschman case. Such calls are usually recorded in the state’s attorney’s felony-review logs.
The confrontation that led to Koschman’s death happened in the early-morning hours of April 25, 2004. Koschma
n and four friends had been carousing in the Rush Street area and bumped into a group that included Vanecko, then 29, and three others. According to the police, Koschman was arguing with Vanecko’s friend Craig Denham, when Vanecko punched Koschman in the face. Koschman, a student at Harper College in Palatine, fell back and cracked his head on the street. He died nearly two weeks later from the resulting brain injuries.
After punching Koschman, Vanecko ran off, and so did Denham, according to the police. Two of their friends who were with them that night — Kevin McCarthy and Bridget Higgins McCarthy, a married couple — were questioned by police officers about whether they knew the two men who had taken off, and Kevin McCarthy initially lied to the police and told them they did not, the Sun-Times has reported.
Afte r Bridget McCarthy later told police who the men were, witnesses — including Koschman’s friends — couldn’t pick Vanecko out of a police lineup held on May 20, 2004, and Koschman’s death remained classified as an unsolved homicide until the reinvestigation earlier this year, when the police closed the case, deciding that the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Vanecko, now a businessman living in Southern California, acted in self-defense when he struck the 5-foot-5, 140-pound younger man.
Ferguson began investigating the police handling of the case after Koschman’s friends and another witness told the Sun-Times that police reports mischaracterized what they’d told detectives. Detectives recorded them as saying Koschman was being physically aggressive, which they deny.
Ronald E. Yawger, a retired detective who investigated the Koschman case seven years ago, said Friday he recently met with investigators from the inspector general’s office. He said he wanted to prepare for that interview by reviewing his original case files, but the police wouldn’t let him.
Yawger, who said there wasn’t enough evidence in 2004 to charge anyone in Koschman’s death, said he was surprised to hear that the original files had been missing.
“That’s funny,” the retired detective said. “It’s brutal. How many more twists and turns can this take?”