By Jason Meisner
4:55 PM CST, December 3, 2012
A special Cook County grand jury indicted former Mayor Richard Daley's nephew on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of David Koschman in a drunken confrontation on the city’s Near North Side, the special prosecutor said today.
The grand jury found that Richard J. Vanecko "recklessly performed acts which were likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another" in Koschman’s death in 2004, according to the indictment.
Koschman, 21, had been drinking in the Rush Street nightlife district early on April 25 2004 when he and friends quarreled with a group that included Vanecko. During the altercation, Koschman was knocked to the street, hitting the back of his head. He died 11 days later.
Former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, appointed special prosecutor in the case last spring, noted that at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Vanecko towered over Koschman, who was 5-foot-5 and 125 pounds. There is no statute of limitations on a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Koschman’s mother, Nanci Koschman, told a news conference that she planned to visit her son's grave and "I'm going to tell David tomorrow that he can finally have peace."
She said she refused to believe, over the years, that the fight was her son's fault, as detectives had told her. "You have to find the strength to go on," Koschman said. "I wanted his name cleared."
Koschman said she never sought vengeance, but accountability. "I want to thank the grand jury," she said. But she added, "It doesn't bring David back. And that's all I wanted."
Vanecko’s attorneys issued a statement saying they were disappointed by the indictment. According to the lawyers, Koschman’s blood-alcohol content was nearly three times the .08 legal limit for motorists – though he was on foot at the time of the confrontation.
Koschman “was clearly acting in an unprovoked, physically aggressive manner,” Vaneckos’ legal team said. “We are confident that when all the facts are aired in a court of law, the trier of fact will find Mr. Vanecko not guilty.”
Vanecko’s lawyers defended the work of police and prosecutors, saying “these agencies professionally investigate these types of incidents on a daily basis.”
“These decisions were not because of favoritism but because the facts did not warrant felony charges,” the lawyers said.
Vanecko, who currently lives in California, is expected to appear for arraignment at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th Street and California Avenue. Plans call for him to post $10,000 cash bond and be released pending trial. He faces 2 to 5 years in prison, or probation, if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Lawyers for Koschman’s mother sought a special prosecutor last year after an investigative series by the Chicago Sun-Times raised questions about whether police and prosecutors intentionally concealed evidence for political reasons.
In a statement released this afternoon, Webb said the grand jury continues “at a vigorous pace” to look into how authorities handled their investigation of Koschman’s death.
Locke Bowman, an attorney with Northwestern University's MacArthur Justice Center who represents Nanci Koschman, said he was encouraged that the investigation was continuing.
"Why has this taken so long?" he asked, wondering if the the clout of the powerful Daley family was at work. "Clearly, we need to have answers."
Webb said thousands of documents have been reviewed and more than 50 witnesses interviewed so far in the seven-month investigation.
Among the issues Webb was tasked to sort out were whether clout tainted the original investigation in addition to whether Vanecko, now 38, should be charged criminally in connection with the death.
Judge Michael Toomin took the rare step of appointing Webb as a special prosecutor in April after concluding that Chicago police and county prosecutors mishandled the investigation.
The charges mark a dramatic twist in a case that seemed to fizzle out in 2004 as the investigation went nowhere.
Police initially said that witnesses gave conflicting accounts of what occurred and some claimed Koschman was the aggressor in the confrontation.
Almost two weeks after Koschman died of his injuries, a top prosecutor in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office was called to the Belmont Area headquarters on the day detectives put Vanecko in several lineups, all of which police said ended with witnesses failing to identify him as the assailant.
Vanecko had come to the station with his attorney, Terence Gillespie, who told police his client would not answer questions.
Dan Kirk, chief of staff for current State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez told the Tribune in an interview earlier this year that there was no admissible evidence that could have been used to file charges at the time.
Kirk said police had no positive identification from any of the lineups they conducted, no statements from the main suspect, no statement from the victim and no physical evidence.
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