Nearly a decade after David Koschman was reportedly punched in the face during a late-night argument — after which he smashed his head on a downtown Chicago sidewalk and laid in a coma for 11 days before dying of his injuries — the trial of the man indicted in connection with the 21-year-old’s death finally may be set next week.
What took so long? you might ask.
That’s one of many questions lawyers for Koschman’s mother are asking regarding the case and investigation focusing on the indicted man, Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, 39, who’s also the nephew of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Former Mayor Daley had no comment on the latest developments in the case, said a spokeswoman for the law firm where Daley has worked since leaving office in 2011.
For starters, McHenry County Circuit Judge Maureen P. McIntyre was appointed to handle the case after the Illinois Supreme Court determined there were too many potential conflicts of interest for the case to be heard by a Cook County judge, notes the Chicago Sun-Times.
More from the Sun-Times:
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.
Special prosecutor Dan K. Webb conducted a 17-month-investigation into the conduct of police and state attorneys after Koschman’s death. One of the more eye-opening results of Webb’s probe is that a three-year statute of limitations on bringing additional criminal charges against police and attorneys had run out, the Sun-Times notes.
Webb 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.”
Locke E. Bowman, one of the Koschman family lawyers and director of Northwestern University’s MacArthur Justice Center, tells the Sun-Times: “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.”
“We are very interested in finding out exactly what the special prosecutor found with regard to the Daley family,” says G. Flint Taylor, another Koschman attorney and 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.”
At Webb’s request Cook County Circuit Judge Michael P. Toomin ordered a temporary delay on the public release of Webb’s report, the Sun-Times says. Webb insisted that 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 protecting the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
The grand jury Webb oversaw returned the indictment against Daley’s nephew on Dec. 3, the Sun-Times notes. Since that time, it had continued to look into the police and state’s attorney’s handling of the investigations.
Webb’s 162-page report comes as a result of information obtained from 146 witnesses — including police, prosecutors and Chicago city officials — and reviews of 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,” the Sun-Times says.
The bill for Webb’s investigation is more than $1 million. And while Webb announced in January that his law firm wouldn’t bill taxpayers beyond that time, he continues to bill for expenses, the Sun-Times reports.
Here’s a clip featuring the two lead reporters from the Sun-Times, Tim Novak and Chris Fusco, explaining the background of the case and investigation:
(H/T: Chicago Sun-Times)