Filing: Police official wanted charges
Published Dec. 6, 2013
By TIM NOVAK, CHRIS FUSCO AND CAROL MARIN
Attorneys for former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko want to keep one of Cook County’s most celebrated prosecutors from testifying at Vanecko’s trial in the death of David Koschman.
They say in a court filing that Thomas Epach Jr. — who prosecuted more than 150 murder cases before taking a top job in the Chicago Police Department — has said he wanted someone charged in Koschman’s death in 2004.
They are asking Judge Maureen P. McIntyre to bar “testimony of Thomas Epach, an attorney who worked for the CPD in 2004 and claimed to have pushed for charges and offered criticisms of the [Cook County state’s attorney’s office’s] handling of the case and felony review procedures.”
Epach was a top aide to then-police Supt. Phil Cline in 2004. Epach was among 146 witnesses interviewed during the investigation by special prosecutor Dan K. Webb that led to Vanecko’s indictment last December on a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Epach, who left the police department several years ago, declined to comment.
“I am bound by the secrecy of the special grand jury and the order of Judge Michael P. Toomin,” he said in an email, referring to the Cook County judge who appointed Webb last year to reinvestigate Koschman’s death and to examine the conduct of police and prosecutors, who decided not to charge Daley’s nephew.
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VANECKO: BAR TESTIMONY ON ‘IRREGULARITIES’
Beside seeking to bar testimony from Thomas Epach Jr. attorneys for Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko say in court papers they also want to block any mention at Vanecko’s trial next year of any “alleged deficiencies or irregularities” in the investigation of David Koschman’s death, including:
• “Failure to place witnesses in the grand jury in 2004 and 2011.
• “Failure to seek or obtain [surveillance] videotapes in 2004.
• “Suggestion that the holding of the [police] lineups or witness questioning were delayed for inappropriate purposes.
• “Missing [state’s attorney’s] felony review file/jacket.
• “Absence of logs regarding [Chicago Police Department] request for [state’s attorney’s] felony review assistance.
• “Disappearance/reappearance of police file at Area 3 in 2011.
• “CPD classifications of the offense in this case, report procedures or the existence of two [case] numbers.
• ”Immunity conferred on potential defense witnesses.”
Epach’s name is contained in Webb’s 162-page report, which Toomin has ordered sealed until the end of Vanecko’s trial.
Webb must file a response to the Vanecko motion by Dec. 16. McIntyre has scheduled a hearing for Jan. 9. Vanecko’s trial is set to begin Feb. 18.
Epach and Terence Gillespie, one of Vanecko’s lawyers, worked together as prosecutors in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. Later, as private attorneys, they defended a gynecologist charged with sexual assault — one of the few cases in which Epach wasn’t working as a prosecutor.
The oldest son of an Army procurement officer, Epach, 59, was born in Chicago and grew up in the south suburbs. He graduated from Loyola University’s law school in 1979.
He began his career as a prosecutor under State’s Attorney Bernard Carey and continued after Daley defeated Carey in 1981. Epach left the prosecutor’s office in 1988 but returned the following year.
Epach left again in 1994 after falling out with then-State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley. After a few months in private practice, during which he and Gillespie defended the gynecologist, he was named supervisor of special prosecutions for DuPage County State’s Attorney Anthony Peccarelli.
When Epach’s former colleague and boss Richard Devine was elected Cook County state’s attorney in 1996, Epach returned to the office, this time as chief of criminal prosecutions, supervising 700 prosecutors. Devine was sworn into office by Epach’s wife, Associate Cook County Judge Lynne Kawamoto.
Five years later, in 2001, Epach left Devine’s staff, taking a job as a top aide to Daley’s police superintendent, Terry Hillard. He stayed on when Cline succeeded Hillard in 2003.
Epach was working for Cline on April 25, 2004, when Koschman was punched in the head during a drunken confrontation with Daley’s nephew on Division Street west of Dearborn, according to court records. Koschman fell and struck his head on the pavement. Vanecko and one of the friends he was with, Craig Denham, ran away, taking a cab to a bar.
Koschman was rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital with brain injuries. Records show detectives halted their investigation hours later and didn’t resume investigating until May 10, 2004 — four days after Koschman died.
The police put Daley’s nephew in a lineup on May 20, 2004, but said four Koschman friends and two bystanders could not identify him. Assistant State’s Attorney Darren O’Brien, who headed the agency’s felony review unit under Devine, decided detectives didn’t have enough evidence to charge anyone.
Devine, who was interviewed by the special prosecutor, says he was unaware that Epach wanted charges filed.
“I don’t have any recollection of Tom Epach contacting me to push for charges in the case,” Devine told the Sun-Times. “No one in the office ever came to me to say he contacted them about seeking charges in the case.”
The case remained an unsolved homicide until a Chicago Sun-Times investigation in 2011 prompted the police to reexamine the case, finding that Vanecko had punched Koschman in self-defense and closing the case without seeking charges 77 days before Daley left office.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez — who was Devine’s chief of staff and previously worked under Epach — backed the police department’s decision not to charge Vanecko in 2011 and opposed the appointment of a special prosecutor.