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WHEATON, Ill. (CBS) — Next month, DuPage County plans to begin building a new $5 million facility where police will investigate crimes against children.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports, it will be named in memory of a young girl who was the victim of one of the state’s most shocking crimes.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports
Had she lived, Jeanine Nicarico today would be a nearly 40-year-old woman. But instead, the image we remember is of a school photo dating from 1983 of a young girl, missing some baby teeth.
DuPage County State’s attorney Bob Berlin says most of the attention to the kidnapping and murder case is based on the decades-long twists and turns in the prosecution of it.
“Lost in all that was Jeanine Nicarico was a 10-year-old girl, a very vibrant, wonderful little child,” Berlin said. “Her family has suffered a great deal; obviously Jeanine suffered a great deal. She was a victim of one of the most horrific crimes the state has ever seen.”
Now, work is about to begin on the new $5 million Jeanine Nicarico Children’s Advocacy Center in Wheaton where police will investigate sensitive crimes against children in a more child-friendly environment.
“There’s furniture that’s geared towards children; there’s toys and a room for other family members where they can wait while children are being interviewed,” Berlin said.
The facility is due to be completed by next spring, as a tribute to the little girl who barely had a chance to live.
As CBS 2 correspondent I.J. Hudson reported at the time, Jeanine had stayed home from school with the flu on Feb. 25, 1983. On that day, someone dragged her out of her Naperville home and sexually assaulted her before taking her life.
Her body was found two days later in a nearby forest preserve.
1984, three men – Rolando Cruz, Alejandro Hernandez, and Stephen Buckley – were charged with the rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in Naperville the year before.
A jury deadlocked on Buckley, and charges against him were later dropped. But Cruz and Hernandez were convicted and sentenced to death in March 1985.
They won a new trial three years later and Hernandez was sentenced to 80 years in prison, but Cruz was sentenced to death again. Meanwhile, prosecutors declined to look into a claim by another man, Brian Dugan, who claimed to have killed Jeanine.
But the case pressed on, and allegations swirled that authorities had concocted evidence against Cruz and his co-defendants. At a third trial ending in 1995, Cruz was acquitted after a sheriff’s lieutenant reversed prior testimony. Charges against Hernandez were dropped, and three DuPage County prosecutors and four sheriff’s deputies were charged with concocting evidence. All were acquitted.
It was the fallout from the Cruz prosecution that led in large part to Ryan declaring a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000. Last year, Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Illinois altogether.
Cruz was pardoned by then-Gov. George Ryan in 2002. Dugan pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death, although the sentence was commuted to life in prison through the death penalty ban.