A relative's take: Anger and disgust

Tribune staff reporters

Joyce Sojoodi slipped into a crowded hearing room in the Cook County Criminal Courts building Tuesday, determined to look into the faces of the two men accused of killing her parents and five other people in the 1993 Brown's Chicken & Pasta slayings.

"Anger and disgust" were the first feelings to hit her as she watched James Degorski and Juan Luna walk before the bench, said Sojoodi, the youngest daughter of Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt, slain owners of the Palatine restaurant.

Degorski and Luna appeared before Circuit Judge Raymond Myles in khaki jail garb, with Degorski displaying a bruised left cheek that authorities say resulted from a scuffle with a jail guard.

Lawyers for the two men and the state argued over whether prosecutors had revealed too many details about the case for there to be a fair trial. The hearing was quick, with the judge delaying until Friday any decision on whether to grant a motion by Luna's lawyer to essentially place a gag order on police and prosecutors to block them from making--and the media from publishing--"highly inflammatory" statements about the case.

Philip Mullane, a supervisor in the public defender's office representing Degorski, called attorney Clarence Burch's motion "draconian," but agreed that the state was out of line in its characterizations of the case and suspects.

He said prosecutors should be held to state Supreme Court rules that bar attorneys from discussing evidence or making comments outside court that go beyond the scope of what has been discussed in court.

Assistant State's Atty. Linas Kelecius denied the accusation, saying the state's comments about Luna and Degorski and its description of the crime fell within state rules.

Myles granted a second motion by Burch to order area television stations to preserve video of a news conference Saturday in which Palatine Police Chief John Koziol said the suspects "have no souls."

Mullane also asked that his client, allegedly beaten by a jail guard over the weekend, be photographed for the court record.

Mostly, though, the hearing involved procedural haggling, and no new details about the case were disclosed.

Still, for Sojoodi, it was an important day.

"I knew I'd be here for the trial," she said. "I needed to get this experience, to have this, to know what it felt like. And I wanted to see them and see who is being accused of this crime."

In his motion Burch is also requesting that all grand jury transcripts that may become part of the public court record be sealed.

Burch's motion also wants to bar the news media from airing or publishing courthouse photographs of the suspects and witnesses until the case is over.

But outside court, Burch seemed to distance himself from his own motion, saying he is not trying to censor the media but to prevent police and prosecutors from making prejudicial comments about his client.

After the court hearing, Mullane complained that damage to the suspects has already been done.

"The horses are already over the hill," he said. "[Prosecutors and police] accomplished what they wanted to do, which is to prejudice the potential jurors in this case. This is exactly what the [Supreme Court] rules were made to prevent."

Mullane and Burch said that if the state failed to comply with the rules, they may ask for a change of venue.

"If the state continues down this road, they continue at their own peril," Mullane said.

Meanwhile, grand jury testimony continued Tuesday in the alleged beating of Degorski by a corrections officer in a maximum-security tier of Cook County Jail.

In court, cuts and bruises could be seen on the face of Degorski, whose left cheekbone allegedly was broken when he was struck by the guard. Authorities said the officer, who lives in Burbank, had been harassing Degorski about the Brown's case.

The officer, who, according to sheriff's officials, said he struck Degorski only after the suspect lunged at him, has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the criminal case.

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