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State’s Attorney Alvarez not up to the task of investigating Koschman case

Cook County State's Atty. AnitAlvarez  | Chicago Sun-Times.

Cook County State's Atty. Anita Alvarez | Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: March 6, 2012 8:20AM



MARK BROWN: Just finished a second reading of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s court filing in which she explains all the reasons there’s no need for a special prosecutor to investigate the death of David Koschman.

As all Sun-Times readers know, Koschman is the young man who was killed in 2004 in what police say was a drunken confrontation on Division Street with Richard “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

It’s always good practice to try to see an issue from the other guy’s point of view.

That’s one of the reasons I didn’t join earlier demands for the special prosecutor.

As Alvarez points out, appointing a special prosecutor is truly an extraordinary legal remedy, a last resort, and I was never sure it was the best approach.

What I was sure about is that this case deserves an unbiased, thorough investigation by someone willing and able to search out the truth wherever the facts may lead.

Unfortunately, after reading the state’s attorney’s arguments against appointing a special prosecutor, I’m more persuaded than ever that her office is not the proper authority to lead such an investigation.

The court filing authored by Alvarez’s lieutenants goes so far out of its way to knock down any potential case against Vanecko, while exhibiting so little curiosity about oddities in the preceding investigation, that you’re left asking yourself why she’s bothering with the “re-review” she says she is conducting with city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson. Her mind is made up.

I do not mean to impugn her motives. I don’t know her motives. All I know is that from the time this newspaper started poking around into this long forgotten matter, she has shown no interest in it.

In her court filing, Alvarez says the request for a special prosecutor is legally deficient, because the allegations made by lawyers representing Koschman’s family are grounded on suspicions and innuendo rather than facts.

There’s some truth in that, I admit. The petition for a special prosecutor does rely heavily on conjecture weaving together issues raised by the Sun-Times’ reporting.

Unfortunately, there’s a wall here that neither investigative reporters nor hard-charging public interest lawyers can penetrate. It takes somebody with subpoena power, somebody who can compel testimony, somebody who can reach into high places.

Alvarez has all those powers, but her attitude from the start has been that it’s a waste of everyone’s time to reopen this old can of worms. Nothing to see here. Move along.

I can see how the state’s attorney’s office could have made a good faith judgment in 2004 that the available evidence did not support the filing of charges against Vanecko — and I can also see that subsequent re-investigations, including ours, don’t make it any easier.

There are the messy circumstances surrounding the identification of Vanecko as the individual who hit Koschman, the ambiguities involving Koschman’s role as an aggressor in the altercation and even the conflicting accounts of whether Vanecko punched or pushed the smaller Koschman. (After reviewing the case last year, Chicago police concluded it was a punch that caused Koschman to fall and hit his head.)

The sad truth is we don’t know exactly what happened on that Division Street sidewalk that night and probably never will.

What I can’t understand, however, is how the state’s attorney’s office — then or now — could look at the totality of the circumstances without alarm bells going off as to how the case had been handled.

Shouldn’t the state’s attorney have been pressing at the time for someone to explain why police had waited so long to actually conduct an investigation?

Shouldn’t the state’s attorney have been questioning the veracity of information provided by Vanecko’s friends, who initially lied to police about their involvement and withheld Vanecko’s name, later adopting the position they hadn’t seen the actual blow?

Are we really to believe Chicago police were unaware of the involvement of the mayor’s nephew until weeks later, after Koschman died?

What about the too perfect lineup in which police went to extraordinary lengths to produce a panel of Vanecko look-alikes, a lineup so fair to the suspect that the eyewitnesses couldn’t pick him out from the beefy, Irish police officers used as stand-ins?

Here’s what I think. I think somebody placed a call in 2004, and afterward the investigation was very subtly undermined. I have no proof of that, but I know many Chicagoans share that suspicion.

It’s going to take someone aggressively tackling those questions head-on if this matter is ever to be put to rest.



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