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Brown’s Chicken Killer Unlikely To Get Most Of $451K Jury Award

James Degorski (Credit: Illinois Department of Corrections)

James Degorski (Credit: Illinois Department of Corrections)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Despite being awarded more than $450,000 in a federal lawsuit against a former jail guard, one of the two men convicted of the 1993 Brown’s Chicken massacre might not see much of that money.

WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports James Degorski, 41, sued a guard at Cook County Jail, accusing the officer of punching him and breaking bones in his face in 2002, shortly after his arrest in the murders of seven people at the Brown’s Chicken restaurant in Palatine.

On Friday, a federal jury awarded Degorski $451,000 for his injuries, but lawyers for the Cook County Sheriff’s office said the Illinois Department of Corrections could sue Degorski to get all but $15,000 of that award to help pay the costs of his lifetime incarceration.

Prison inmates also face strict limits on how much they can spend at prison commissaries – typically no more than a few hundred dollars a month.

The victims’ families also could sue Degorski for a portion of the money.

Degorski and accomplice Juan Luna were convicted of the murders, and sentenced to life in prison, but jurors at the civil trial over Degorski’s beating were not told the details of his conviction, only that he was a convicted killer.

Ann Ehlenfeldt, the sister of one of the victims, said “I think it’s a crying shame” Degorski was awarded nearly half a million dollars in damages, but she has no plans to sue to get some of the money.

However, if her nieces decide to sue Degorski, she’ll support them.

Ann Ehlenfeldt is the sister of Richard Ehlenfeldt, the owner of the Brown’s Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine. Richard Ehlenfeldt and his wife and five employees were killed by Degorski and Luna on Jan. 8, 1993, in one of the most infamous mass murders in Chicago history. The victims were found the next day in the restaurant’s freezer.

Manny Castro, the father of victim Michael Castro, said it’s “outrageous” that Degorski was awarded $451,000 for the alleged jail beating, and said he’d like to thank the guard who beat Degorski. Castro said he plans to sue Degorski to get a slice of the award.

Attorneys for the guard, former correctional officer Thomas Wilson, acknowledged he struck Degorski, but said he was acting in self-defense, and was aggressive in subduing Degorski, because he knew he was one of the Brown’s Chicken killers.

Wilson was fired over the 2002 incident, but acquitted of criminal charges.