After 16 Years, A Conviction in Chicago Restaurant Slayings

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Chicago, IL—After a month-long trial and only two hours of deliberation, jurors have found a former handyman guilty of killing seven people in a Chicago restaurant in 1993.

According to his former girlfriend, James Degorski had agreed to help a friend who wanted to know what it was like to kill someone. Degorski and Juan Luna targeted Brown’s Chicken and Pasta restaurant because Luna had worked there in the past and considered it an easy target for a robbery and homicide.

The two men went to the restaurant at closing time and shot or stabbed its two owners as well as five of their employees. The bodies were later found in the walk-in freezer.

Luna was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. A strong case against him centered around physical evidence, including a palm print and DNA samples that placed him at the scene of the crime, as well as a videotaped confession in which Luna admitted to the killings and also implicated Degorski.

Now Degorski, 37, has also been convicted of the crime, and could be sentenced to the death penalty.

The victims of the slaying include restaurant owners Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50; his wife Lynn, 49; and five employees of the fast-food emporium: Michael Castro, 16; Rico Solis, 17; Marcus Nellsen, 31; Thomas Mennes, 32; and Guadalupe Maldonaldo, 46.

Anne Lockett, Degorski’s former girlfriend, testified that both men had confessed to the crime shortly after it took place, but that they had threatened to kill her. She did not come forward and speak to police until 2002, at which time the two men were arrested.

Luna had told authorities that he had been ordered by Degorski to watch Lynn Ehlenfeldt, but that he “got caught up in it” and cut her throat, but that Degorski shot the remaining six victims. After his arrest, Degorski made a brief statement to the police, but did not confess to the crime. Prosecutors relied heavily on witness testimony, including that of Lockett, in order to prove their case against Degorski, since there was little physical evidence to implicate him. He had, however, told many people about having committed the murders.

According to the prosecution, Degorski claimed that he perpetrated the killings, which occurred on January 9, 1993, “because he wanted to do something big.”

The men left the scene with less than $2,000.

 

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