Degorski Would Adjust Psychologist Testifies Killer Would Be Unlikely to Commit Violent Act in Prison

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 8, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Degorski Would Adjust Psychologist Testifies Killer Would Be Unlikely to Commit Violent Act in Prison


Byline: Barbara Vitello Legal Affairs Writer bvitello@dailyherald.com -CLMN-

James Degorski may have committed a violent act outside of jail, but that doesnAEt mean he will commit violent acts in prison, said a forensic and clinical psychologist testifying on behalf of the defense Wednesday in Chicago.

Psychologist Mark Cunningham has spent more than a decade researching violence in prison and the behavior of capital offenders. His evaluation of Degorski consisted of three meetings with the defendant, a review of DegorskiAEs record and interviews with more than 20 Cook County jail corrections officers. That combined with national statistics led Cunningham to conclude that it is unlikely Degorski would commit a serious violent act in prison if he were sentenced to life in prison without parole, he said.

"He is very likely to have a positive adjustment to a life term in prison," said Cunningham.

CunninghamAEs testimony came on the third day of the defenseAEs mitigation case as DegorskiAEs attorneys try to persuade jury to spare the life of the man convicted last week of capital murder in the 1993 slayings of seven workers at a Palatine BrownAEs Chicken & Pasta.

Among the factors predicting whether an inmate will behave violently in prison are age, education, connection to family, employment history and appraisals from corrections officers, Cunningham said. Of these, age is one of the most powerful predictors, Cunningham said, because older inmates are less likely to act out than younger ones. At 37, Degorski falls in to the former category.

A high school graduate who has been consistently employed most of his life (beginning at age 12 with a stint delivering newspapers), Degorski fits the profile of a nonviolent inmate, despite his conviction for multiple murders, Cunningham said.

He has not committed any known violent acts in the seven years between the murders and his arrest; his record during his seven years at Cook County jail awaiting trial remains mostly unblemished (except for two infractions); and correctional officers have described him as cooperative and compliant, Cunningham said. All of which points to Degorski serving out a life sentence without a major incident, he said.

Violent behavior in the outside world doesnAEt predict violent behavior in prison, Cunningham said. Rather, violent behavior in the prison predicts violent behavior in prison. To that end, Cook County corrections officers testified this week that Degorski has been a model prisoner.

Cunningham disputed defense attorney Preston JonesAE suggestion that DegorskiAEs good behavior in jail may have resulted from his desire to create a positive impression before his trial.

"Seven years is a long time to put on an act," Cunningham said.

National studies show that convicted murderers u even multiple murderers u tend to act out less frequently than inmates convicted of lesser crimes, Cunningham said.

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