Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.  AP file photo

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez. AP file photo


Published Dec. 23, 2011


Staff Reporters

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office indicated Thursday it may challenge an effort to get a special prosecutor appointed to investigate a 2004 homicide case involving Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Two top lawyers from that office said that a request filed last week by the mother of David Koschman seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate his death and the handling of his case by prosecutors and the Chicago Police Department contains inaccuracies.

“There are legal and factual assertions in the motion that are inaccurate,” Jack Blakely, who is State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s chief of special prosecutions, said after a court hearing on Nanci Koschman’s request. “And we’re going to file a written response.”

Blakely and Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly declined to say whether they’ll oppose bringing in an outside prosecutor to review the case.

A decision on whether a special prosecutor will be appointed could be months away.

On Thursday, Judge Paul Biebel Jr. – the chief judge of Cook County’s criminal courts – bowed out of the case. Normally, it would be up to him to decide whether an outside prosecutor is warranted. But at Thursday’s hearing Biebel removed himself from the case, saying he has “imminent medical issues that need to be tended to.”

Biebel said that, after consulting with Timothy C. Evans, Cook County’s chief judge, he assigned the case to Judge Michael Toomin, the presiding judge for Cook County’s juvenile courts. A hearing was set for early January.

In his most high-profile case, as a criminal courts judge in the 1990s, Toomin presided over the retrial of Chicago mob hitman Harry Aleman, giving him a sentence of 100 to 300 years.

David Koschman died of brain injuries after getting punched in the face in a drunken confrontation with Vanecko on Division Street near Dearborn Street in the early-morning hours of April 25, 2004.

Vanecko ran off. Authorities labeled Koschman’s death a homicide, but no one was charged.

Koschman’s death was listed by the police as an open and unsolved homicide until early this year, when detectives re-examined the case. They ended up closing it without seeking criminal charges but, for the first time, identified Vanecko – 29 at the time of the confrontation – as having thrown the deadly punch.

The police reinvestigated after the Chicago Sun-Times asked to see police files in Koschman’s death. A Sun-Times investigation uncovered problems with the way the police handled the politically charged case and revealed that the state’s attorney’s office couldn’t find its files on the case. Those reports prompted an ongoing investigation by Joseph Ferguson, the city of Chicago’s inspector general.

Nanci Koschman, along with her sister and brother-in-law, filed court papers last week asking for a special prosecutor to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against Vanecko or others, citing the Sun-Times’ reports.

Her lawyers – 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 – asserted in that filing that criminal charges would have been filed against Vanecko if not for his Daley family connection. They also said someone from outside the state’s attorney’s office is needed to review the case because of questions about how the investigation was handled by the police and prosecutors.