December 4, 2012
The terrible part wasn't what Nanci Koschman said about the nephew of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley who was finally indicted Monday in the death of her son.
It's what she couldn't say that was terrible. It was in all those forced pauses between her words, as she talked of the political heat that pushed down upon her as she dared ask questions about how her son David Koschman died.
It was all those hard silences that were difficult to listen to, a mother who was trying to pull air into her lungs but couldn't.
"While it's a good day for what we were going for, it's still a sad day because my son isn't going to be with us," she said at a news conference at the Northwestern University Law School, hours after Daley nephew Richard J. Vanecko was indicted by a special grand jury on a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
"I never went out with the thought that R.J. Vanecko went out to hurt my son that night. But all along, the police and the detectives made it sound like it was all David's fault. And that was all I wanted — the record cleared — that David was not at fault that night. That he didn't cause his own death."
Special prosecutor Dan Webb, who in April was named to run the grand jury probe after city detectives and two successive Cook County state's attorneys either bungled or dismissed evidence before them, said it wasn't Koschman who was at fault.
It was allegedly Vanecko, who punched Koschman on the early morning of April 25, 2004, on the street near Division and Dearborn streets when their two groups got into an altercation after a night of drinking.
According to Webb, Koschman was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 125 pounds, while Vanecko is 6 feet 3 inches and weighed 230 pounds. It was no contest.
Even so, it could be a difficult case to prove in court. Both groups were drinking. But let me ask you this:
If the names were reversed and the little guy was a Daley and the big guy doing the punching was someone else, would it have taken eight years and a special prosecutor to get an indictment?
No. It would have taken days, not eight years.
Whether it was the punch or the fall that killed Koschman, we don't know. And we don't know if he was brain dead from the moment he was punched.
What we do know is that after he fell, he was put on life support for 11 days, which meant that there was no homicide investigation. But word was already running through the Police Department and the state's attorney's office that the suspect was the nephew of the man who held the city in his hands.
In those 11 days, according to excellent work by reporters at the Sun-Times, some detectives had time to go on furlough and other detectives picked up the case, although it took days for them to do so. Witnesses had time to change their stories and get their accounts straight.
That's what Webb is investigating now. And that might cause problems for the Chicago police and local prosecutors.
Former Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine, who was in office at the time, told us it would be unethical for him to comment during Webb's investigation.
Current State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said her office was the first to "call for an independent investigation of this case." What she conveniently forgot to mention is that she wanted the Illinois State Police to do it, and they didn't want it, and that she resisted calls for a special prosecutor.
And Judge Michael Toomin overruled her in April.
Back in 2004, David Koschman lingered for 11 days. Finally, life support was removed, and he died in his mother's arms.
Only then, after the medical examiner ruled, was it called a homicide.
"I got one phone call the very first night that he was hurt, from a detective just giving me the case number," Nanci Koschman said Monday. "And I didn't hear anything for 10 days after he died, when reporters started coming to my sisters' and my house, asking about a cover-up. But until then, we knew nothing about it."
Her son's friends told her that the man who slugged her son had run off, but she believed the detectives would pursue the case. Finally, she heard from a detective. He told her that if her son had lived, he'd have been the only one charged.
"The detective clearly stated that it was all David's fault and that David is the only one who would have been charged and that he was responsible for the whole thing," Nanci Koschman said.
"He also said to me that if I tried to sue the family, that, he told me I'd be impressed by the names of the people that were involved with the case, and that if I tried to sue, they would keep me tied up in court for years. So that was why I never did anything."
The message was clear. Back off, Mrs. Koschman, before you get stepped on. Back off because powerful people want you to back off. Back off because your son, all 125 pounds of him, threatened that hulking fellow with the mayoral bloodline.
But she didn't back off.
And watching her Monday, as she pushed through that news conference, gulping for air, fighting for her son's memory, I wished something:
That all of political Chicago could be sentenced to hear her.
And that they would be compelled to listen to those terrible pauses in a mother's voice, again and again and again.
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