The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Man Convicted In Brown's Chicken Murders Awarded $451K Civil Rights Judgment

By Chuck Sudo in News on Mar 10, 2014 3:00PM

James Degorski in an undated photo. (Photo via Palatine Police Dept.)

One of the two men convicted in the 1993 Palatine Brown’s Chicken murders received a $451,000 judgment in an unrelated civil rights case.

A jury awarded the judgment to James Degorski, who claimed a former Cook County Sheriff’s deputy beat him while in custody in 2002. Degorski suffered a broken cheekbone and eye socket in the attack and Degorski required two metal plates to be surgically implanted in his face. The correctional officer charged in the attack, Thomas Wilson, was placed on unpaid leave and eventually fired from his job in 2004. The judgment didn’t sit well with the families of the seven victims in the Brown’s Chicken murders or Wilson.

"If broken bones are worth a half-million, then how much are seven lives worth? This just doesn't feel right," said Ann Ehlenfeldt, a sister of Richard Ehlenfeldt, one of the owners who was killed.

Dana Sampson, daughter of Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt, called the judgment “disheartening” and told the Tribune “it kind of feels like a slap in the face.”

Degorski’s attorney Jennifer Bonjean hailed the decision. “It really stands to the proposition that our constitutional rights are not on a sliding scale for some people,” she said. “It's about protecting the constitutional rights of the least among us."

It isn’t known how much, if any, of the settlement will be available to Degorski. Officials at the Menard Correctional Center where Degorski is serving a life sentence for the murders could attempt to use the judgment to cover the cost of incarcerating him—according to the Illinois Department of Corrections it costs taxpayers around $20,000 annually to house an inmate in the facility. Degorski can’t go on a spending spree in the prison commissary with the money as he’s only entitled to spending a few hundred dollars a month there. And Wilson’s attorney, John Winters Jr., said he’ll seek every legal option available to “get every dime back out of Mr. Degorski.”

The Brown’s Chicken murders went unsolved for nearly a decade before breaks in the case and DNA evidence led to the arrests of Degorski and Juan Luna in 2002. What was originally supposed to be a routine robbery instead led to owners Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt and five customers murdered and hidden in a freezer in the restaurant. Luna was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. Degorski was convicted in 2009 and also sentenced to life in prison. Each was spared the death penalty because the jury couldn’t reach unanimity.