A Cook County jury today spared James Degorski of the death penalty three weeks after he was convicted in the murders of seven workers at the Brown’s Chicken restaurant in Palatine in 1993.
He will be sentenced to life in prison.
The jury began deliberations at about 12:20 p.m. after hearing closing arguments from lawyers on both sides.
Degorski, 37, is charged with killing seven workers in the suburban restaurant 16 years ago in an attempt "to do something big." His co-defendant and high school friend, Juan Luna, was sentenced to life in prison two years ago for the murders.
"He slaughtered them that night," Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Tom Biesty said in his closing. "He wanted to do something big and he wanted to be famous. Well, he did do something big and he is famous…and now it’s his judgment day."
In rebuttal, Mark Levitt, a senior Cook County assistant public defender, encouraged jurors to look deep into their hearts and give Degorski a life sentence instead of death.
"Finding mercy where it shouldn’t exist is exactly what mercy is," said Levitt, who spoke in a soft tone during closing arguments and referred to Degorski as "Jim."
Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Tom Biesty pulled out all the stops, mixing crime scene pictures with photographs of the victims smiling, according to the report. Family members wept as images of loved ones flashed on the screen.
But the Public Defender Mark Levitt won the day, especially after recounting Degorski’s childhood:
In his closing arguments, public defender Levitt recounted the convicted murderer’s abusive childhood abd showed school-age photos of Degorski and his four siblings while recalling the sexual and physical abuse they suffered at their father’s hand. Levitt portrayed Degorski as a young child willing to take extra blows in the hopes of protecting his siblings, a role that left him with deep psychological wounds.
At moments, a typically stone-faced Degorski swallowed hard and looked away as Levitt described a tyrannical and sexually-perverse father. Levitt said his client suffers from neurological problems, was in special education classes from an early age and wet his bed until the age of 14.
Another violent chapter in the Brown’s Chicken murders comes to a close.
I can’t help thinking how violence begets violence, considering Degorski’s childhood. From that violent past, seven more lives lost.
From WGN as the jurors heard closing arguments: