Grand jury ends investigation into Koschman death

Tribune reporter

The special prosecutor who brought involuntary manslaughter charges against former Mayor Richard Daley's nephew after a Rush Street confrontation led to the death of David Koschman concluded Thursday that he will not bring charges against the Chicago police or Cook County prosecutors who initially handled the case.

Former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, who was appointed a special prosecutor in the case, said a three-year statute of limitations on the initial investigation in 2004 barred charges of official misconduct. He said evidentiary issues surrounding a 2011 reinvestigation of the case kept him from charging police or prosecutors.

Webb was granted permission by Cook County Judge Michael Toomin to file his 162-page report under seal because of potentially explosive details about the investigations that, he said, could impair Daley nephew Richard J. Vanecko's right to a fair trial. But with the report under wraps until after Vanecko's trial, scheduled for next year, attorneys involved in the case attempted to parse Webb's filing and a public statement.

The report, built around 146 witnesses and a review of more than 22,000 documents at a cost to Cook County taxpayers of about $1.1 million, drew a particular distinction between the actions of police and prosecutors in the 2011 reinvestigation. Webb said in a court filing that there was "insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that Chicago police had violated state law. He said in his statement, however, that there was "no evidence of any kind suggesting any violations of Illinois criminal law" by Cook County prosecutors in the reinvestigation.

For the attorneys representing Koschman's mother, Nanci, who had petitioned for the appointment of a special prosecutor, Webb's filing indicated that he found criminal conduct by the authorities in their investigation in 2004 — in spite of the fact that Webb made no such statement.

"We read between the lines in this report, and what seems very clear to us is that the special prosecutor, in effect, is saying that in 2004 there was criminal misconduct," attorney Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University law school said at a news conference. "This is not a surprise. It was clear (when Vanecko was indicted in 2012) that something had gone terribly wrong in the investigation into David's death."

"Nanci Koschman ... very much needs to know what happened in this investigation and why things went awry," he added. "She urgently looks forward to the release of this report."

Chicago police did not respond to requests for comment. Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, said the only thing that was certain from Webb's filing was that his report cleared prosecutors for how they handled the 2011 reinvestigation.

"We're not willing to speculate and read between the lines here," said Daly, who added that the state's attorney's office had cooperated completely with the special prosecutor's investigation.

Koschman, 21, of Mount Prospect, had been drinking in the Rush Street night life district in April 2004 when he and friends got into an altercation with a group that included Vanecko. During the drunken confrontation, Koschman was knocked to the ground, hitting the back of his head.

He died 11 days later.

The initial investigation ended without any charges being filed by then-State's Attorney Richard Devine. But the police investigation was sluggish, files went missing and a mysterious notation written on the back of one police report appears to reference Vanecko's relationship to Daley. The case was reopened in 2011 after a Chicago Sun-Times series of stories raised questions about whether authorities intentionally hid evidence or failed to aggressively investigate Vanecko because of his ties to Daley.

Toomin took the rare step of appointing Webb as a special prosecutor last year after concluding there were "troubling questions" about the investigations by Chicago police and county prosecutors, including what the judge called "mixed signals emanating from this troubling case."

Toomin said, in particular, that he was troubled by allegations that police deliberately falsified reports to make it appear that Koschman, who was 5-foot-5 and 140 pounds, was the aggressor during the confrontation with the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Vanecko. The judge also criticized police and prosecutors for concluding that Vanecko had been acting in self-defense even though they had never interviewed him.

The report will not be turned over to Vanecko's attorneys, Toomin ordered.

Vanecko's attorneys could not be reached.

Vanecko, who lives in California, is expected to go on trial early next year before McHenry County Judge Maureen McIntyre, who will travel to the Rolling Meadows courthouse to hear the politically charged case. After Webb asked that an outside judge preside over the case, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered McHenry County's chief judge to assign someone from that circuit to hear it.

Vanecko faces anywhere from probation to five years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad