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Chicagoist's Top Stories of 2012: The David Koschman Investigation

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 17, 2012 7:00PM

The Chicago Police Department's booking photo of Richard "RJ" Vanecko.
When the Sun-Times broke the story last year of the 2004 death of David Koschman and how Richard “RJ” Vanecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, and how he wasn’t charged in connection with it even though an investigation concluded he threw the punch that led to the injuries that killed Koschman, it seemed as though the story would have ended there.

Thanks to the dogged reporting of the Chicago Sun-Times and the decisions of Cook County Judge Michael P. Toomin, Vanecko may finally face justice for his actions. Toomin’s ruling to appoint a special prosecutor in the Koschman case gained some teeth when it was announced the prosecutor would be Dan Webb, the former lead prosecutor in the "Operation Greylord" investigations into Cook County judicial corruption in the mid-80s that led to the indictment of 92 people, including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, 10 deputy sheriffs, eight policemen, eight court officials and state legislator James DeLeo. Webb has a reputation for being detailed in his investigations and the chances of Vanecko being indicted in Koschman’s death went from nil to likely.

That indictment, for involuntary manslaughter, was handed down earlier this month. Toomin made it abundantly clear when he announced his appointment of a special prosecutor he didn’t want the investigation to end with an eight years overdue indictment of Vanecko. Toomin offered a stern rebuke for Chicago Police and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office when he said “The system has failed David Koschman.”

"Quite simply, we had a dead body," he said. "This is not a whodunit. We know who did it. We have a known offender and yet no charges."

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez may have reason to be afraid of Webb’s grand jury. Although she said she has no conflict of interest investigating the Koschman case, Alvarez’s actions have spoken to the contrary. Alvarez, who said there was no need for a special prosecutor, was ordered to hand over documents related to the case to attorneys representing Koschman’s mother Nanci. Koschman’s attorneys have argued Alvarez’s relationships with her predecessors in the State’s Attorney’s office, Daley and Dick Devine, present the exact conflict of interest she claims to not have.

Then comes news Monday of a second case file opened by police in the Koscahman investigation. The case file, No. HK348411, was labeled a “non-criminal/death” investigation. Law enforcement authorities told the Sun-Times it’s unusual for two separate files to be opened on the same case.

The potential Daley conflicts don't end with Vanecko and Alvarez. Just this morning prosecutors asked Toomin to appoint a judge from outside Cook County, who would also ostensibly have no ties to Cook County's highest-profile political clan. Judge Arthur F. Hill Jr. recused himself from the Vanecko trial last week out of what he called "an abundance of caution." Toomin agreed with the prosecutors' request but sent it to Chief Cook County Circuit Court judge Timothy Evans, with a recommendation for the Illinois Supreme Court to appoint a judge from outside Cook County.

Both files are in Webb’s hands right now and we may soon see if his investigation leads to future indictments in 2013. If only the police and State’s Attorney’s office did their jobs eight years ago, maybe we wouldn’t be looking at the David Koschman investigation as one of our top stories of the year.