Darker Portrait of Brown's Suspects Prosecutors Say Men Bragged about Other Crimes and Killings

By Toomey, Shamus | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 21, 2003 | Go to article overview

Darker Portrait of Brown's Suspects Prosecutors Say Men Bragged about Other Crimes and Killings


Toomey, Shamus, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Shamus Toomey Daily Herald Staff Writer

The two men charged in the Palatine Brown's Chicken & Pasta slayings each were accused by prosecutors Thursday of bragging about old crimes - one of a stabbing and one of another murder.

Jim Degorski and Juan Luna, initially painted as mostly non- violent friends who pulled off one night of horror, now are being portrayed as leading lives filled with abuse and violence.

In documents filed Thursday in Cook County Criminal Court, prosecutors laid out the pasts of Luna, 29, and Degorski, 30, in vivid detail, with specifics culled from grand jury testimony, witness interviews and police records.

The information in the filings is known as "aggravation and mitigation" factors that prosecutors would not use at trial, but could use at a sentencing hearing, if it comes to that. Prosecutors already have announced they will seek the death penalty if the two are convicted.

In the filing Thursday, Degorski was accused of uttering a statement to a girlfriend more than a year before the Brown's killings that mirrors the motive offered by prosecutors for the seven Palatine murders. According to the girlfriend, prosecutors said, the former Hoffman Estates man repeatedly boasted he planned to do "something big" to become famous. That assertion strongly resembles the Palatine police theory of the motive.

The most serious new allegation lodged by prosecutors is that Degorski, while a student at Fremd High School between 1987 and 1992, bragged to a female friend that he once "killed a black guy in Minnesota." The friend, Melissa Oberle, was unclear if Degorski boasted of using a baseball bat or a gun to carry out the killing, according to the court filings.

Oberle, a former Palatine resident, confirmed in an interview Thursday that she told police of Degorski's boast months ago. She said Degorski made the claim to others in high school, but she said she dismissed it then and still questions whether he was lying.

Luna is accused in the filing of bragging to a man he met in 1997 that he once stabbed a prostitute in Chicago. Luna and the friend later formed a band they called "The Eagles," and the friend claims Luna used to write lyrics about beating and killing people, prosecutors claim.

Whether the other killing and stabbing that Degorski, 30, and Luna, 29, allegedly bragged about ever actually happened is unclear. But prosecutors plan to use the boasts - as well as each man's criminal history - against them to help get death sentences should the two be convicted of the Palatine slayings.

Prosecutors refused to elaborate on the court filings or say if the murder and stabbing allegations were being investigated. Palatine police also declined to comment.

Luna and Degorski have pleaded not guilty to the Brown's charges. One of their lawyers Thursday called prosecutors' claims in the court filing "baseless."

Clarence Burch, who represents Luna, said the new allegations are unfounded and that Luna has never been charged by police.

"Certainly Mr. Luna denies allegations made in so-called hearsay comments from third parties," Burch said. "Anybody can say anything they want to say, but it has to be proven in open court."

Degorski's attorney could not be reached for comment.

In their 20-page court filing, prosecutors also allege Degorski was a brutal and jealous boyfriend who terrorized and controlled girlfriends with violence and threats.

In one instance, Degorski is accused of dragging then-girlfriend Anne Lockett off the dance floor of her sister's 1994 wedding reception. It was Lockett who told police Degorski confessed to her that he and Luna killed the seven Brown's employees after closing time Jan. 8, 1993. Lockett was maid of honor at the wedding and Degorski was angry "because he felt Anne was talking to the groom too much," prosecutors alleged. …

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