Updated 12/03/12 – 6:05 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – A nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley has been indicted for involuntary manslaughter in the 2004 death of David Koschman.
Special prosecutor Dan Webb, a former U.S. Attorney, announced the indictment of Richard “R.J.” Vanecko on Monday afternoon, nearly eight months after he began looking into Koschman’s death, and the subsequent investigation by Chicago Police and Cook County prosecutors.
Early on the morning of April 25, 2004, the 21-year-old Koschman reportedly had a confrontation with Vanecko outside a bar in the Rush and Division Street nightclub district. The quarrel allegedly prompted Vanecko to punch or push Koschman, who hit his head on the ground and died 12 days later.
Monday’s indictment alleges Vanecko, “through the use of physical force, and without lawful justification, recklessly performed acts which were likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another, and such acts caused the death of David Koschman.”
Vanecko’s arraignment has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 10, at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. He currently lives in California, and Webb said arrangements have been made with Vanecko’s attorneys to appear voluntarily.
Investigators initially determined the 6’3″, 230 pound Vanecko punched the 5’5″, 140 pound Koschman in self-defense. But in April, Cook County Judge Michael Toomin appointed Webb as a special prosecutor to re-investigate the case, after the Koschman family and others criticized the police handling of the case.
The Koschman family and other critics of the original investigation have said they believe police and prosecutors might have decided not to charge Vanecko because he is Daley’s nephew.
Koschman’s mother, Nanci Koschman, refused to stop fighting, and said the special grand jury indictment brings her some peace.
“I’m going to go tell David tomorrow that he can finally be at peace,” she said Monday afternoon.
She fought back tears as she talked about the indictment, but made it clear she wasn’t celebrating the charges against Vanecko. She said, all along, what she wanted was to clear her son of any wrongdoing in the fight that led to his death.
“I don’t wish Mr. Vanecko to go to jail, that’s not what this is all about. I’ve never been vengeful for it, I just wanted the record stated clearly, that’s all I’ve ever wanted,” she said.
Vanecko’s attorneys said they were disappointed in the indictment.
They noted the case was investigated multiple times by Chicago Police and Cook County prosecutors, but authorities did not seek any charges.
“These decisions were not because of favoritism, but because the facts did not warrant felony charges,” Vanecko’s attorneys said in a written statement. “While the death of David Koschman is no doubt a tragedy and a great loss to his mother and family, on the morning in question, he and four others in his group had been drinking extensively. Our investigation has shown that Mr. Koschman was approximately three times over the legal limit, and was clearly acting in an unprovoked, physically aggressive manner.”
Vanecko’s attorneys said they’re confident he’ll be found not guilty.
Although Webb’s investigation into Koschman’s death has been completed, he said an inquiry of the original handling of the case “continues at a vigorous pace.”
Koschman family attorney Locke Bowman, praised Webb’s announcement that the probe of the original investigation would continue. He said it could answer an important question about why charges were not filed much sooner.
“Did this delay have anything to do with the identity of the defendant? Is there any actions that were taken – implicitly or explicitly – to derail this investigation, to cause this investigation to lose its focus, because of the fact that the defendant was the nephew of Richard Daley, and a member of the most powerful political family in Cook County?” Bowman said.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who was sworn in for her second term on Monday, defended her office’s handling of the case, pointing out she asked the Illinois State Police to conduct an independent investigation of the case in March 2011, a few weeks after Chicago Police closed their reinvestigation of the case. When State Police later said the case should be handled by an agency that could convene a grand jury, she asked Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to investigate.
“I know I did what I was supposed to do as Cook County State’s Attorney in looking at this case,” she said. “Maybe it got lost in translation, but I was the only one who actually asked for an independent investigator to look at this case, particularly when there were allegations of misconduct by police officers. … I believe that this office has handled this case with the utmost integrity from the get-go.”
She also said she convened a grand jury to look into the case, but said that investigation was cut off after about a year when Toomin appointed a special prosecutor. Alvarez said she could not explain why the grand jury she convened could not bring any charges after a year, when the grand jury convened by Webb took only a few months to file charges.
“I don’t know what the evidence is, or … if there’s any new evidence that Dan Webb uncovered, because I am not part of that investigation,” she said, saying that her only involvement in Webb’s investigation was turning over all the information her office had on the case. “If there’s any new additional evidence that he has, I don’t know.”
A series of stories in the Chicago Sun-Times about the handling of the original investigation led police to re-examine the case last year, but no one was ever charged.
Detectives reportedly determined Koschman was the aggressor, based on witness accounts. But those witnesses later said they never told police Koschman was the aggressor.
Koschman’s attorneys said there was never much of an investigation. Vanecko was never questioned by police.
In agreeing in April to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the case, Toomin slammed the way authorities handled the original probe eight years ago.
“The system has failed David Koschman up to this point,” the judge said. “There is an appearance of impropriety.”
“When you have a dead body, someone’s going to jail,” he continued. “Not in this case. This is a fiction of self defense.”
Vanecko has denied any wrongdoing.