A man who since 1998 knew who allegedly committed the Brown's Chicken & Pasta Restaurant slayings is expected to testify Monday before a Cook County grand jury, according to police sources, potentially adding more evidence to the case from a person who harbored the secret for years.
According to court documents and accounts given by police, at least eight people believed the two suspects now charged were responsible for the 1993 killings, yet only one called the police.The failure of the others to come forward has angered members of the victims' families. Some voiced their frustration to police during a meeting after Saturday's news conference, questioning why criminal charges could not be brought against two women whom the suspects--Jim Degorski and Juan Luna--allegedly confessed to within 24 hours of the killings.
But so far, authorities have been unwilling even to criticize their long-reluctant witnesses, calling one a hero for her eventual cooperation. It's a decision fueled by legal considerations, including concerns about the statute of limitations, and the strategic need for testimony, experts said.
The grand jury testimony expected Monday is to come from the husband of one of the women, Eileen Bakalla, sources said.
The man learned about the suspects from Bakalla shortly before the couple got married in 1998, but believed he needed to keep the secret in order to preserve his marriage, a law-enforcement source said. The two are now estranged, and the husband gave a tearful statement to Palatine police Thursday.
Jack Rimland, president of the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said Sunday that prosecutors are being careful how they portray the women who may be their star witnesses.
"They want these two young women to have the appearance that they weren't vicious, they weren't part of the scheme, they came forward because they were finally in a position where they could put aside their fears" of retribution, Rimland said. "That gives them a much cleaner presentation."
The role of the women in helping police bring charges also raises questions about who will get the reward offered in the case, which stands at $86,000.
Anne Lockett, 26, now a student at Eastern Illinois University, got a full explanation of what happened that night from Degorski and Luna just days after the killings, police said. And when Luna, a former Brown's employee, was called in for a police interview, Lockett accompanied him after Degorski told Luna it would make him look more respectable to go with a woman, police said.
Lockett kept the secret for years but told a boyfriend and their roommate last fall, police said. The boyfriend and Lockett considered sending an anonymous letter to authorities but did not. The roommate did not call police. Lockett's mother and sister also eventually knew about suspects, police said. Finally, another woman whom Lockett had told contacted police, who persuaded Lockett to cooperate.
Bakalla, a classmate of the two men at Fremd High School in Palatine, learned about the killings even sooner than Lockett, authorities said. Bakalla met up with Degorski and Luna after the killings and drove them to her home in Elgin, where she saw the money they had taken from Brown's and received $50, police said. She learned of the killings a few hours later, police said.
The next day, Bakalla went with Degorski when he took Luna's car to a carwash and sprayed out the interior, police said. Later, Bakalla backed up Luna's alibi, telling police Luna was with her on the night of slayings, police said.
On Sunday, Diane Mennes, sister-in-law of victim Thomas Mennes, said those who knew about the slaying suspects yet said nothing should at least be fined for putting the families through years of torment. If Illinois law does not permit that, she said, the law should be changed.
"[The delay] mattered," she said. "My husband [Jerry Mennes, Thomas' twin brother] was a very angry person for years. He'd watch murderers getting caught on the news and say, `They can find those guys; why can't they find the people from the Brown's Chicken?'"
Even if prosecutors were inclined to press criminal charges against the women, they would have to jump several significant legal hurdles.
As in most states, Illinois law doesn't require people who know about a crime to go to the police, experts said. Doing nothing "may make you unable to look at yourself in the mirror, but it doesn't make you legally responsible," said Richard Kling, a defense lawyer and law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Witnesses who mislead the police, intentionally trying to throw them off the trail of a criminal, can be prosecuted for obstruction of justice. But Lockett's actions were ambiguous, experts said. She appeared with Luna at his interview but didn't make any statements to police. And she reported that her life was threatened.
"If you are just scared, I don't think they would prosecute somebody for obstruction of justice," said John Corkery, law professor at John Marshall Law School.
Bakalla is in a more tenuous situation, experts said. She did lie to police by providing Luna's alibi, according to authorities.
But even there, authorities must deal with Illinois' three-year statute of limitations on obstruction of justice. Authorities have said the statute may create a problem. Experts said that if Bakalla made false statements to police within the last three years about what she knew, then she could be charged.
Obstruction of justice carries a prison sentence of 1 to 3 years, with probation a possibility, experts said. That's a small prize when weighed against their testimony.
The reward was established within two weeks of the killing. Outstanding pledges could push it over $100,000, according to Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins.
Palatine officials say its too early to tell who might be entitled to it--the tipster who first alerted authorities to Lockett; Lockett herself, who worked with police to tape-record what authorities describe as an incriminating telephone conversation with Degorski; or someone else.
If there's a conviction, Police Chief John Koziol would recommend who should get the money.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun