Two men were once on Death Row for the murder of Jeanine Nicarico. Brian Dugan has been trying to confess to this horrible crime for years.
Tuesday, he finally got his chance.
Some in the audience wiped away tears as State’s Atty. Joseph Birkett solemnly described the fingernail scratches 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico left on the wall that showed how she tried to fight off a would-be burglar.
How Brian Dugan promised to take the girl home but instead killed her.
The murder “went as perfectly as the others, but something was wrong,” Brian Dugan told an Illinois State Police psychologist, Birkett recounted. “I felt like I was going to get caught.”
And he did. Dugan, already serving life sentences for two other murders, formally admitted in court Tuesday that he and he alone kidnapped, raped and killed the girl on Feb. 25, 1983.
His admission, first made in 1985, had long been rejected by DuPage officials. But on Tuesday Birkett said Dugan has been telling the truth.
Birkett’s 55-minute recitation of the facts was a dramatic turn in a case with 26 years’ worth of twists, including the false convictions and Death Row sentences of two other men and the acquittals of seven DuPage County law-enforcement officials on malfeasance charges. The drama will kick into high gear again in September, when Birkett pursues his long-stated goal of having Dugan sentenced to death.
Birkett’s description of Nicarico’s final hours were brutal and difficult to listen to, as were his descriptions of the autopsy results. Some in the audience wiped away tears as they heard how Dugan brutalized the girl on a sleeping bag in the woods, leaving her bloody and disoriented, then promised to wash her up and take her home, but instead crushed her skull with either a baseball bat or a tire iron.
Birkett also described in detail the 1985 rape and murder of 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk, one of two murders for which Dugan already is serving concurrent life sentences. Bakalis has previously approved allowing the details of the Ackerman case at a trial, ruling that the similarities with the Nicarico murder showed a legal pattern of behavior.
Dugan sat quietly during Birkett’s grim reading of a 14-page statement. Melissa’s father stonily stared off into space.
When it was over, the judge denied Dugan’s request to read aloud a letter that he carried with him, a letter his attorneys contended was an apology.
This was not the only child this monster murdered. We should be grateful the judge did not permit him to read his letter, address the families. They don’t need that.
Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for the same crime. Birkett said Dugan’s confession completely exonerates them.
Two on Death Row for a crime they didn’t commit. Some would argue that the system worked, eventually. Except these two lost years of their lives because of Dugan’s crime. The two were set free in 1995, twelve years after Jeanine’s death, when DNA tests and recanted testimony damaged the prosecution, the Tribune says.
The temptation is great for us to kill this man. If anyone deserves to die…
Dolling out death takes us down a slippery slope, though. We don’t do that well. We make mistakes. We can be incredibly stupid animals, Vonnegut said. We suffer under the illusion that “The System” is somehow divine, that there is this separate entity apart from humanity called “The System,” and that “The System” will protect us in spite of ourselves.
Except it won’t. The system is us. We are the system. That system is us at our best and our absolute worst.
Put this monster away forever. And mourn Jeanine Nicarico and Melissa Ackerman once more.