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

Prison System Wants A Cut Of Brown's Chicken Killer's Civil Rights Judgment

By Chuck Sudo in News on Nov 12, 2014 3:30PM

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

The Illinois Department of Corrections is seeking part of a monetary judgment awarded to one of the two men convicted in the 1993 Palatine Brown’s Chicken murders.

James Degorski filed a lawsuit against Cook County in 2004 over injuries he sustained when he first arrived at Cook County Jail after his 2002 arrest. Former correctional officer Thomas Wilson donned leather gloves and punched Degorski in the face. The attack knocked Degorski out and fractured bones in his face, requiring the installation of plates in his face to help him heal.

In March, a federal jury awarded Degorski $225,000 in compensatory damages to be paid by the county and $226,000 in punitive which Wilson is required to pay. Judge Robert Dow Jr. reduced the punitive judgment to $125,000. (Wilson was fired from his job and is currently unemployed.) The county paid the compensatory damages last week and, under state law, the Department of Corrections can seek all but $15,000 of the total amount awarded to cover the cost of Degorski’s incarceration. The department is asking for $100,000 from that judgment.

There’s also the possibility that families of the victims in the murders will sue to seek a part of the money. Degorski’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, said her firm is holding the money in an account and that she’ll place liens on any assets Wilson has to force him to pay the punitive damages.

Wilson’s attorney, John Winters Jr., said he’ll represent the families of Degorski’s victims pro bono if they decide to file suit. “It seems quite unjust that a man who committed some of the most brutal murders of seven people who pled for their lives should receive a dime.”

The Palatine Brown’s Chicken murders went unsolved for nearly a decade before breaks in the case and DNA evidence led to the 2002 arrests of Degorski and Juan Luna. Luna was convicted in 2007. Degorski, who has maintained his innocence, was convicted in 2009. Both men are serving life sentences. Degorski and Luna botched a robbery attempt. They ended up killing restaurant owners Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt and five customers and hid their bodies in a freezer. Families for the victims expressed outrage after the jury awarded Degorski the damages.