Jeanine Nicarico's death
Brian Dugan, left, is accused of killing 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. Dugan already is serving life sentences for two other murders. He and one of his attorneys met with a judge and purportedly told him he wants to plead guilty to the slaying.
July 22, 2009
BY DAN ROZEK Staff Reporter
Brian Dugan set to admit he killed Naperville girl Nicarico
Guilty plea would come a quarter century after Jeanine Nicarico's death
Convicted double-murderer Brian Dugan plans to plead guilty to the notorious 1983 murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico and then ask that a jury determine whether he gets the death penalty, sources said today.
The 52-year-old former Aurora man could admit as next week, when he's set to appear in a DuPage County courtroom, that he is responsible for kidnapping, raping and killing the Naperville girl more than 25 years ago, the sources said.
Dugan already is serving life sentences for two other suburban murders. He's scheduled to stand trial in September for Jeanine's slaying, one of the Chicago area's most bizarre unsolved crimes.
But the mercurial Dugan -- who has long offered to admit his guilt but only if prosecutors would agree not to seek a death sentence -- still could change his mind before his court appearance, one source said.
DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett wouldn't comment today on a possible plea. But he said prosecutors are prepared to proceed with Dugan's sentencing if he pleads guilty.
"We'll be ready for whatever occurs," said Birkett, who has said repeatedly he will seek the death sentence if Dugan is convicted of killing Jeanine on a day she was home sick from school.
Given his long criminal record, the only other sentencing option for Dugan is another life term.
One member of Dugan's legal team, DuPage County Public Defender Robert Miller, declined to comment on a possible plea.
Dugan and one of his attorneys met earlier this week with Judge George Bakalis and purportedly told him that Dugan wants to plead guilty to the slaying.
If that happens, Dugan is expected to ask that Bakalis not determine his sentence but that a jury be impaneled to decide his fate.
The jurors would hear evidence then not only of Jeanine's slaying but also of other crimes Dugan committed -- including the murders of 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk and Geneva resident Donna Schnorr.
Dugan was charged with Jeanine's slaying in 2005, but the case has a long and tangled history that includes two other men being convicted and sentenced to death for the crime. Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez later were cleared of the charges and released, while seven DuPage County law officers involved in their prosecutions were charged with wrongdoing.
The police officers and prosecutors -- informally known as the DuPage 7 -- ultimately were acquitted of all charges against them.
Man wrongly convicted in Nicarico murder speaks out
Monday, July 27, 2009 | 10:50 PM
By John Garcia
July 27, 2009 (WLS) -- A guilty plea is expected on Tuesday in the murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico.
Brian Dugan is expected to admit to killing the Naperville girl back in the mid 1980s. But a man who spent years on death row for that crime before being exonerated is angry about the plea.
From a legal standpoint, Brian Dugan's expected guilty plea to the rape and murder of Jeanine Nicarico will resolve a 26 year-old mystery.
Rolando Cruz says his years behind bars, falsely convicted of the crime, ruined his life. Now he worries the guilty plea will deny the public from hearing the full truth about the crime and he believes it might spare Brian Dugan from getting the death penalty.
He's been a free man now for about as long as he spent behind bars - 12 years. Rolando Cruz is now a family man who says he treasures his children. But he says he's still haunted by the decade he spent on death row for the rape and murder of Jeanine Nicarico, a crime he says he had nothing to do with.
"I want justice. I'm not talking about for me. I'm talking about for everybody. Everybody. Jeanine especially. For my little kids," said Rolando Cruz.
Cruz won a multimillion dollar settlement against DuPage County authorities nine years ago though law enforcement officials were acquitted of criminal charges. But most of the money Cruz says he gave away. What he really has wanted all these years, he says, is for the truth to come out. That's why he wants Brian Dugan to be put on trial rather than be allowed plead guilty.
"Why don't them try him? How can Birkett justify not taking him to trial to expose everything," said Cruz.
Sources confirm Brian Dugan plans to plead guilty to the Nicarico murder on Tuesday. Because of a gag order, neither his attorney nor DuPage County state's attorney Joe Birkett will comment. But Birkett has said in the past he will pursue the death penalty regardless of a plea. Rolando Cruz says that's the only way there can be justice in this case.
"What he did was not just to Jeanine, it was to a community, to a city, to a state, to a people, to a country. What he did was not just rape and murder her, he raped and murdered all of us," said Cruz.
Brian Dugan is already serving self life sentences for other crimes and legal scholars tell ABC7 prosecutors have little choice but to accept the guilty plea. They are, however, expected to pursue the death penalty.
Brian Dugan: I killed Jeanine Nicarico
Brian Dugan (right) is charged with killing 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in Naperville in February 1983.
Will plea in Naperville girl's death spare convicted killer a death sentence?
July 28, 2009
BY DAN ROZEK Staff Reporter
After 26 years and two other murder convictions, Brian Dugan finally admitted his guilt today in one of the Chicago area's most notorious murders -- the 1983 beating death of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville.
Standing in a hushed DuPage County courtroom, the 52-year-old Dugan acknowledged raping and killing the Naperville girl, rather than go to trial, in hopes his guilty plea would help him avoid the death penalty.
Dugan calmly agreed when asked by DuPage County Circuit Judge George Bakalis what plea he wished to enter to the first-degree murder charge.
Dugan, his legs shackled, wants a jury be impaneled to decide whether he should get the death penalty for the fifth grader's Feb. 25, 1983, murder.
Already serving life sentences for two other suburban murders, Dugan is likely to get another life term if he avoids the death penalty.
Jeanine's parents opted not to attend today's hearing but are expected to be key witnesses at Dugan's sentencing.
The abrupt guilty plea came less than two months before Dugan had been scheduled to stand trial for Jeanine's kidnapping, rape and murder, which took place on a day she'd stayed home from school sick.
But Dugan chose instead to plead guilty and ask that a jury -- not a judge -- decide whether he should be sentenced to death.
Legal experts expect that, at his sentencing hearing, Dugan will point to his guilty plea as part of his effort to persuade jurors that he is remorseful and doesn't deserve a death sentence.
Jurors selected for the sentencing would hear evidence not only of Jeanine's slaying, but also of other crimes Dugan committed -- including the murders of 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk and Geneva resident Donna Schnorr, 27.
Dugan, an Aurora native, has been Imprisoned since 1985 for those killings.
Dugan had long been a suspect in Jeanine's death.
Before he was indicted for her slaying, two other suburban men were convicted and sentenced to death for the crime. Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez later were cleared of the charges and released, and seven DuPage County law officers involved in their prosecutions were charged with wrongdoing. The police officers and prosecutors -- known as the DuPage 7 -- were found "not guilty" of all charges.
Dugan had long offered to plead guilty to Jeanine's murder, but only if DuPage County prosecutors would agree to allow him to avoid the death penalty -- a deal authorities wouldn't accept.
The guilty plea offered today -- and the upcoming sentencing hearing -- are viewed by Dugan's defense team as giving him the best opportunity to avoid a death sentence.
Dugan admits killing Jeanine Nicarico in 1983
26 years after she vanished from home, he confesses to her kidnapping, rape and murder
By Art Barnum | Tribune reporter
July 29, 2009
It took nearly an hour Tuesday for the DuPage County prosecutor to tell the heartbreaking, 26-year-old story.
Some in the audience wiped away tears as State's Atty. Joseph Birkett solemnly described the fingernail scratches 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico left on the wall that showed how she tried to fight off a would-be burglar.
How Brian Dugan promised to take the girl home but instead killed her.
The murder "went as perfectly as the others, but something was wrong," Brian Dugan told an Illinois State Police psychologist, Birkett recounted. "I felt like I was going to get caught."
And he did. Dugan, already serving life sentences for two other murders, formally admitted in court Tuesday that he and he alone kidnapped, raped and killed the girl on Feb. 25, 1983.
His admission, first made in 1985, had long been rejected by DuPage officials. But on Tuesday Birkett said Dugan has been telling the truth.
Birkett's 55-minute recitation of the facts was a dramatic turn in a case with 26 years' worth of twists, including the false convictions and Death Row sentences of two other men and the acquittals of seven DuPage County law-enforcement officials on malfeasance charges. The drama will kick into high gear again in September, when Birkett pursues his long-stated goal of having Dugan sentenced to death.
The bespectacled Dugan began Tuesday by standing before DuPage Judge George Bakalis and admitting his guilt. "No one aided, abetted or helped me," Dugan said simply after asserting that he understood Bakalis' pointed questions.
Then Birkett took his place at the courtroom lectern, launching into the first complete version of what prosecutors believe Dugan inflicted on Nicarico one winter afternoon.
Birkett said Dugan broke into the girl's Naperville Township home in an attempted burglary but took only Jeanine, who left fingernail scratches on a wall.
Birkett's description of Nicarico's final hours were brutal and difficult to listen to, as were his descriptions of the autopsy results. Some in the audience wiped away tears as they heard how Dugan brutalized the girl on a sleeping bag in the woods, leaving her bloody and disoriented, then promised to wash her up and take her home, but instead crushed her skull with either a baseball bat or a tire iron.
Birkett also described in detail the 1985 rape and murder of 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk, one of two murders for which Dugan already is serving concurrent life sentences. Bakalis has previously approved allowing the details of the Ackerman case at a trial, ruling that the similarities with the Nicarico murder showed a legal pattern of behavior.
Dugan sat quietly during Birkett's grim reading of a 14-page statement. Melissa's father stonily stared off into space.
When it was over, the judge denied Dugan's request to read aloud a letter that he carried with him, a letter his attorneys contended was an apology.
Birkett's presentation included the complete exoneration of Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez, two Aurora men wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for the same crime. The statement set the stage for the Sept. 22 sentencing hearing, when a jury is expected to be chosen to decide if Dugan will be sentenced to death or another life term.
Birkett described how Cruz and Hernandez were arrested and tried based on statements they and others made about the crime, but concluded that there was "no physical evidence" ever found against the pair. Birkett said he wanted to put that issue to rest so it has no further effect on Dugan's sentencing hearing.
Dugan's attorneys have told Bakalis that they plan to use the wrongful convictions of the two men to their client's benefit, claiming that by admitting his role in the murder, he helped get innocent men off Death Row.
Relatives of Donna Schnorr, a 27-year-old Kane County nurse for whose 1984 murder Dugan is serving his second life sentence, also were present during the plea and would not comment when leaving the courthouse.
Although Birkett's statement Tuesday was long, detailed and gruesome, it was but a taste of what onlookers are likely to hear at the sentencing hearing, in which Birkett is expected to introduce details of crimes against as many as a dozen girls and women.
After Tuesday's plea, neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys would elaborate on any of the day's events, citing Bakalis' warning that they not make any public statements that could have an effect on potential jurors.
"I do my talking in the courtroom and I'll talk after it is all done," Birkett said before an array of television cameras.
"Everything we can say we already said in court," said Steven Greenberg, a defense attorney.
The plea was a rare moment of clarity in a case mired in ambiguity from the start.
After Cruz and Hernandez were convicted of Nicarico's death in 1985, Dugan told investigators he was prepared to take sole responsibility for Nicarico's killing as well -- but only if he were spared the death penalty.
Prosecutors refused, saying he was a liar whose account of the crime contained inaccuracies. But some in law enforcement were convinced that Dugan was telling the truth. That led to the odd spectacle of seasoned investigators decrying the county's case from the witness stand and through the media.
The evidence against the original suspects eventually fell apart. Cruz and Hernandez were set free in 1995, when DNA tests and recanted testimony undermined the prosecution.
Then, three former DuPage prosecutors and four sheriff's officers were indicted in 1996 on charges of lying and concealing evidence to convict Cruz.
They were acquitted, but in 2000, the DuPage County Board paid $3.5 million to settle lawsuits brought by Cruz, Hernandez and third former defendant Stephen Buckley.
All the while, Dugan's informal confession colored the case. He was occasionally called to testify, but always asserted his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
In 2002, a new round of DNA testing established with certainty that Dugan was involved in Nicarico's rape and murder. Pressure mounted anew on Birkett, and some residents unsuccessfully tried to have a special prosecutor take over the case.
Finally, in late 2005, more than 22 years after Nicarico was killed, a grand jury charged Dugan with her murder.
Dugan expresses remorse in note
Judge denies request to read letter to Nicarico family in court
July 31, 2009
By DAN ROZEK Sun-Times News Group and DAN CAMPANA Staff Writer
A DuPage County judge on Thursday barred convicted murderer Brian Dugan from reading a letter directed toward the family of Jeanine Nicarico.
In the handwritten note, Dugan expressed his remorse for fatally beating Jeanine Nicarico in 1983 even as he acknowledged her family likely wouldn't accept his apology.
"I wish you could look inside me, see the depth of my remorse and believe the truth in my words, but I know that's impossible," Dugan wrote in his note.
Dugan had planned to read his brief apology Tuesday in a DuPage County courtroom after he pleaded guilty to murdering the 10-year-old Naperville girl, but Judge George Bakalis blocked that attempt, ruling the timing was improper.
Prosecutors filed a motion to preclude Dugan from reading the letter at any point, which the judge ordered. The case returns to court on Aug. 13 for hearings related to the expected September sentencing hearing.
But sources said the 52-year-old Dugan expressed his regret for the pain he caused Jeanine's family and took responsibility for the notorious killing, which initially saw two other men convicted and sentenced to death for the little girl's killing.
"I hope this plea brings the Nicarico family and the community a small measure of resolution in their long search for the truth," Dugan wrote at one point.
Dugan initially had offered in 1985 to plead guilty to Jeanine's murder while he was awaiting trial for two other slayings, the 1984 killing of 27-year-old nurse Donna Schnorr of Geneva and the 1985 murder of 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk. Prosecutors, unconvinced by Dugan's claims and unwilling to agree not to seek a death sentence, wouldn't accept a plea deal.
Two Aurora men, Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez, were convicted of Jeanine's slaying and sentenced to death. Both spent years in prison before being cleared of all charges and released.
"I deeply regret all the pain and suffering I've inflicted and all the hurt, betrayal, sorrow and loss I caused everyone," Dugan wrote.
While noting that he has been imprisoned for more than two decades for his crimes, Dugan said he remains "haunted" by all the violence he has committed in his life.
"I've remained a prisoner of myself, haunted by my violence, imprisoned by my self-loathing, doomed to defend my ugliest moments," he said.
Brian Dugan defense seeks to bar death penalty
WHEATON — A defense attorney for Brian Dugan has filed a motion asking DuPage Circuit Court Judge George Bakalis to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against Dugan, who has pleaded guilty in the 1983 murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico.
Attorney Allan Sincox argued Thursday the long delay makes it too difficult to find evidence for mercy.
The defense also submitted a confession Dugan reportedly wrote in 1985 admitting raping and killing the Naperville girl. They contend Dugan wanted to clear two other men wrongly convicted in the case.
Those men endured multiple trials, death sentences and more than 10 years in prison before being cleared.
The 52-year-old Dugan has been serving two life prison terms for two later murders.
Jury selection for his sentencing in the Nicarico case begins Sept. 18.
Dugan states case in letter to media
For the third time in the 26-year investigation and prosecution of the 1983 murder of Jeanine Nicarico, 10, of Naperville, a letter confessed killer Brian Dugan wrote from jail is a center of courtroom attention
JUDGE SAYS QUIT WRITING | Killer says he confessed in '85 to protect defendants
August 29, 2009
BY THOMAS FRISBIE AND DAN ROZEK Staff Reporters
For the third time in the 26-year investigation and prosecution of the 1983 murder of Jeanine Nicarico, 10, of Naperville, a letter confessed killer Brian Dugan wrote from jail is a center of courtroom attention.
In 1984, Dugan wrote to a former girlfriend about the original three defendants in the case: Rolando Cruz, Alejandro Hernandez and Stephen Buckley, who were in DuPage County Jail as Dugan was being held on other charges. "Do you remember that little girl that got murdered and raped in Naperville?" Dugan wrote. "Well, those people are here.
Prosecutors used that over the years to challenge Dugan's later admission in 1985 that he was the sole killer and to pursue their cases against the other men, who were later freed.
In his most recent letter to the Sun-Times and other media outlets, Dugan, 52, said he admitted his crime 24 years ago to "protect" the original defendants. He attached a handwritten "plea related statement" that he was not allowed to read in court last month when he officially pleaded guilty.
"My main motivation in pleading guilty was to take responsibility for these crimes, express my remorse and for the truth to finally emerge," he wrote in his letter to the news media.
In the "plea related statement," Dugan wrote: "For more than two decades I've remained a prisoner of myself, haunted by my violence, imprisoned by my loathing and forever doomed to be defined by my ugliest moments."
On Thursday, an exasperated DuPage Judge George Bakalis -- who had already sealed Dugan's court file and imposed a gag order -- warned Dugan during a court appearance not to make more public statements before his sentencing.
In December, Dugan sent a Christmas card to DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett. At the time, Ba- kalis told Dugan not to communicate with prosecutors.
In a written statement, Birkett said Dugan will have the chance to speak at sentencing, but he'll be subject to cross-examination.
Serial killer novel, Maxim mag found in Dugan's cell
September 9, 2009
BY DAN ROZEK Staff Reporter
A search of triple-murderer Brian Dugan's jail cell turned up contraband books and magazines -- including "erotica" and a novel about fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter, DuPage County authorities said Tuesday.
DuPage County sheriff's officers seized the banned items in a search triggered by Dugan's sending letters to media and calling a TV network about his upcoming sentencing for the 1983 slaying of Jeanine Nicarico. Judge George Bakalis had ordered Dugan and attorneys involved in the case not to talk publicly.
Items seized included the novel Hannibal Rising and copies of Maxim magazine. Dugan's said legal documents also were taken, but prosecutors disputed that claim. Bakalis ruled Tuesday that jurors will hear about the other two murders for which Dugan is serving life.
Potential Dugan jurors quizzed on death penalty
Brian Dugan (left) and Jeanine Nicarico
September 23, 2009
By PAUL DAILING email@example.com
WHEATON -- The legal wrangling started Tuesday to select the 12 people who will decide whether Brian Dugan gets the death penalty in Jeanine Nicarico's murder.
In the 26 years since 10-year-old Nicarico was abducted from her Naperville home, raped and murdered, the story has often been in the public eye, from the wrongful convictions of two other men for the crime to Dugan's surprise confession in July.
But the more than 140 potential jurors are being asked if they would be able to put aside anything they might have heard about the case in the last quarter-century and decide Dugan's fate based only on evidence presented in an upcoming sentencing hearing.
When in front of potential jurors Tuesday and last Friday, Dugan dressed in a blue dress shirt and khaki pants rather the prison uniform he's worn since 1985.
Dugan is serving life sentences for two other murder convictions. Unless all 12 members of the jury vote in favor of the death penalty, Dugan will remain in prison for life.
Once the jury is selected, sentencing hearings could start by Oct. 6, Judge George Bakalis said Tuesday during the first morning of individual interviews with potential jurors. Last week, Bakalis told the crowd of more than 140 potential jurors to expect the sentencing to take four to six weeks.
Dugan's attorney, Steve Greenberg, said jurors who come in believing Dugan should get the death penalty should automatically be removed.
"If they say yes, boom, gone," Greenberg said.
However, prosecutors and Bakalis said eliminating every potential juror who is initially in favor of the death penalty could be impossible, especially with such a high-profile and emotional case.
"People are going to come into this case, especially a case of this nature, with some preconceived notions," Bakalis said.
DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett said all the law asks is that people be willing to consider all options, even ones that might counter their first take on an issue.
"Everybody has opinions, but the judicial system is based on people who can put aside their pre-judgments -- their opinions -- and listen to the evidence," Birkett told one potential juror, who was later excused.
By law, Dugan is considered ineligible for the death penalty until prosecutors prove that he is eligible. It's similar to how a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. If the jury decides Dugan is eligible for the death penalty, they then must decide if he deserves it.
Dugan has been in prison since 1985 for the murders of 27-year-old Donna Schnorr of Geneva and 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk.
Brian Dugan sentencing case goes to jury
Killer of Jeanine Nicarico, 10, could get death penalty or life term
By Art Barnum Tribune reporter
October 6, 2009
More than 26 years after 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico was abducted, raped and murdered, a DuPage County jury will determine whether the man who has confessed to the crime should be sentenced to death.
Brian Dugan, 53, already is serving life sentences for the rapes and murders of Donna Schnorr, 27, a Geneva nurse, and Melissa Ackerman, 7, of Somonauk. Death or natural life in prison are the only sentences that the jury can consider, and a death sentence requires a unanimous vote.
Twelve jurors and four alternates chosen during two weeks of questioning will begin hearing arguments at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and adjourn around 5 p.m. That schedule will be followed Tuesdays through Fridays in Courtroom 4000. Circuit Judge George Bakalis has told jurors they will serve four to six weeks.
The first order of business is to determine Dugan's eligibility for the death penalty. After brief testimony, the jury will convene to deliberate that question alone.
If jurors agree Dugan is eligible, a hearing on the actual sentence will begin.
Because Dugan pleaded guilty, a jury did not hear evidence of the Nicarico crime at trial, so much of that testimony will be presented at sentencing. And although prosecutors are limited during a trial to discussing the case at hand, at sentencing they will have greater leeway to bring up other crimes, including some for which Dugan was not charged.
Prosecutors are expected to call police officers and Dugan's victims to the stand to detail a criminal history that began with his juvenile arrest on burglary charges in 1972. Defense attorneys are likely to reconstruct Dugan's past as well, reaching back to a childhood of severe abuse.
The case is among the most notorious in Illinois.
Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were convicted and sentenced to death for the crimes in 1985, but a series of appeals led to Cruz's acquittal and charges against both men being dropped in 1995. After a criminal investigation of authorities' handling of the case, three former prosecutors and four DuPage County sheriff's officers were indicted on malfeasance charges but acquitted in 1999.
The county paid Cruz and Hernandez a $3.5 million settlement in 2000. The case sparked a review of the state's death penalty system that yielded a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty, although the penalty can still be imposed.
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Brian Dugan has spent more than half his life in prison.
He dropped out of Aurora East High School at 16 and was charged a year later with battery for grabbing a 10-year-old girl in Lisle. Between 1976 and 1982, he served more than five years in prison for other crimes, including arson and burglary.
In June 1985, he was arrested on suspicion of attacking a 19-year-old woman in Geneva, part of a crime spree that also included two rapes. Shortly thereafter, he pleaded guilty to the murders of kidnapping and murder of kidnapping and murdering Melissa Ackerman and Donna Schnorr, 27. He received life sentences for the crimes.
When he was negotiating those guilty pleas, Dugan claimed to have killed 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico, even though two other men were sitting on death row for the crime. He offered to plead guilty in the girl's death if he would be spared the death penalty, but prosecutors steadfastly refused.
In July, he told Judge George Bakalis that he had acted alone in kidnapping, raping and murdering of Jeanine.
Jeanine Nicarico was a dimpled 10-year-old who loved horses, puppies and playing make-believe.
The sunny fifth-grader stayed home sick from school on Feb. 25, 1983. For lunch, she ate a grilled cheese sandwich that her mother made for her. Her mother then returned to work, where Jeanine called her a short time later to tell her about a television program.
A short time later, Brian Dugan kicked in the door of the family's Naperville Township home and abducted Jeanine, leaving the family dog cowering in a utility room. Two days later, the girl's body was found beside the Illinois Prairie Path between Aurora and Naperville.
Jeanine's family said she grew to love reading, although she struggled with it early in school. To foster a love of reading in others, her family, friends and Naperville Community Unit School District 203 formed the Jeanine Nicarico Memorial Literacy Fund in 1996 (nicaricoliteracyfund.org). The fund has provided more than 100 grants totaling more than $100,000 for school literacy programs, efforts to foster reading among senior citizens and to buy books for independent reading in grade schools, among other endeavors.
"So much of her memory is scarred by ugliness," her father said in July. "This is where her memory creates something positive, hopefully for a long time."
THE VICTIM'S FAMILY
Pat and Tom Nicarico, Jeanine's parents, have been present at hundreds of court hearings during the last 26 years and at every minute of Dugan's jury selection the last two weeks. They recently retired in South Carolina. Their two other daughters, Jeanine's older sisters, live with their families in the western suburbs.
DuPage State's Attorney Joe Birkett will lead a team of four prosecutors. Birkett has been state's attorney since 1996 and a prosecutor his entire legal career. He is a leading proponent of the death penalty in Illinois and unsuccessfully legally challenged then-Gov. George Ryan's mass commutation of more than 160 death penalty inmates in 2003.
Birkett was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for state attorney general in 2002 and lieutenant governor in 2006. In July, he announced plans to run again for attorney general but withdrew a month later.
He is assisted by Michael Wolfe, chief of criminal prosecutions, who was successful in obtaining the death penalty for murderers Eric Hanson and Paul Runge. Other members of the team are Assistant State's Attorneys Romas Mockaitis and Kasia Malkinska.
Public Defender Robert Miller and private attorney Steven Greenberg are leading a team of five defense attorneys seeking to convince the jury that the death penalty isn't the proper punishment for Dugan. Greenberg, a veteran criminal defense attorney, has said that none of the eight to 10 defendants he had represented in murder cases was sentenced to death. Other defense membersare Senior Public Defender Jeffrey York; Allan Sincox, a staff attorney on the Death Penalty Trial Assistant Team of the Illinois appellate defender's office; and Matthew McQuaid, a private attorney.
DuPage Circuit Judge George Bakalis, presiding judge of the criminal felony division, has a reputation for being reserved and no-nonsense. He was appointed associate judge in 1990 and assigned to the criminal felony division since elected a circuit judge in 1996. He has presided over hundreds of trials, including the trial of Marilyn Lemak, the Naperville woman who poisoned and suffocated her three young children. His impassioned rebuke of Lemak while delivering a life sentence -- saying he hoped the image of those children would never leave her mind -- was in contrast to heightened because of his generally calm demeanor.
Bakalis has impounded the Dugan file over the last year, citing concerns about pretrial publicity, and he has ordered attorneys not to talk about the case outside of the courtroom.
Bakalis was in private practice in Du Page from 1973 to 1990, primarily in family law and criminal defense. When he was appointed to the bench in 1990, he said, "I have always felt law is the basic fabric that holds out society together."
Jury decides Brian Dugan eligible for death penalty, but will he get it?
Published: 10/7/2009 11:50 AM | Updated: 10/7/2009 12:06 PM
A DuPage County jury deliberated for less than an hour today before finding convicted killer Brian Dugan eligible for the death penalty in the 1983 murder of Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville.
A lengthy sentencing phase lies ahead. Two options exist: execution or another life prison term.
Dugan, 53, pleaded guilty on July 28 to the fifth-grader's abduction, rape and murder. He has been in prison since 1985, serving life terms for two later sex slayings and a series of other attacks. He killed nurse Donna Kay Schnorr, 27, of Geneva on July 15, 1984, and Melissa Ackerman, 7, of Somonauk on June 2, 1985.
DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett argued Dugan should be eligible for the death penalty because 10-year-old Jeanine's murder was particularly brutal, committed in the course of other felonies such as home invasion, aggravated kidnapping and rape, and because he has killed two other people.
"Think about what Jeanine went through," said Birkett, choking back his emotions. "Words really can't describe the nature of this crime. He had no mercy and no compassion - none - zero. It didn't exist; not that day. Not in Brian Dugan's mind and not in Brian Dugan's heart."
Birkett continued: "If this is not the case, then we should throw the (death penalty) law out. If not this case, there is no case."
The stoic jury of seven women and five men did not outwardly react when viewing crime-scene photos of the child's brutalized body.
Defense attorney Steven Greenberg conceded Dugan qualifies for a possible death sentence under the law, based on the three killings, but urged the jury to keep an open mind for the penalty phase.
Dugan has admitted kicking in the front door of the Nicarico home, near Naperville, on Feb. 25, 1983, while Jeanine was home alone with the flu. Prosecutors said the girl's scratch marks were found on the wall near the door as she tried to resist her abductor.
Two days later, Jeanine's bludgeoned body was discovered along the Illinois Prairie Path, just miles from her Clover Court home. Jeanine had been sexually assaulted and fatally beaten in a horrific crime that sparked a long legal saga that involved the wrongful prosecutions of three other men and now, nearly 27 years later, is finally coming to a painful close.
To try to save Dugan's life, his lawyers will argue he long ago offered to plead guilty to Jeanine's murder if the death penalty was taken off the table, in part, to accept responsibility and also to save the innocent men originally accused of the crime.
"(Prosecutors) could have put a stop to it many years ago," Greenberg told the jury. "(The crime) may have been disgusting. It may have been sick. But he has done good things and you're going to hear about it. Don't get swayed by the (crime-scene) pictures. There's more to the story."
The slain girl's parents, Tom and Pat Nicarico, support the death penalty. DuPage Circuit Judge George Bakalis is presiding over the sentencing hearing in Wheaton.
Dugan jury hears about 1977 rape of Elmhurst teacher
Published: 10/13/2009 2:04 PM | Updated: 10/13/200 5:09 PM
Before her death nearly three years ago of cancer, an Elmhurst first-grader teacher told her husband she recognized Brian Dugan as the man who abducted, beat and raped her years earlier.
Her husband, Timothy Newmann, was supposed to testify Tuesday about how his wife identified Dugan as the couple watched television coverage of his 1985 capture for later crimes.
He never made it to the stand, however, after defense attorneys objected. Instead, in an agreed stipulation between both sides, prosecutors told jurors about the conversation.
The jury earlier learned how the woman escaped, naked from the waist down, and fled to a nearby home during the January 1977 attack. Her assailant was not apprehended.
Outside of court, Timothy Newmann told the Daily Herald his wife of 22 years was certain Dugan was her attacker.
"She was staring at the (TV) screen," he said. "I saw in my peripheral vision that she was just frozen. I said, 'That's him, isn't it,' and she said, 'Yes.'"
Dugan may face execution for the Feb. 25, 1983, abduction, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville. He has been in prison serving life sentences since 1985 for two other sex slayings - those of 27-year-old Geneva nurse Donna Schnorr in July 1984; and Melissa "Missy" Ackerman, 7, who was snatched while she and her friend rode their bicycles June 2, 1985, in LaSalle County.
The seven-woman, five-man jury deliberated less than one hour last week before finding Dugan, 53, eligible under the law for a possible death sentence. Members, who elected a Purple Heart recipient from Naperville as their foreman, will decide whether to impose it after hearing several more weeks of graphic testimony.
Timothy Newmann said his wife, a 35-year Elmhurst Unit District 205 first-grade teacher, did not let the violent encounter with Dugan dominate her life. After recognizing Dugan in 1985, she did not contact police because he already was serving two-life terms and the statute of limitations for rape had long ago expired. She died Dec. 4, 2006, at age 55. The couple lived in Bensenville.
"Let me tell you something about my wife," Newmann said, outside of court. "She was a very, very special lady. She loved children and children loved her. Every day with her was such a joy. It doesn't surprise me she would spring back from this terrible ordeal with this monster."
In earlier testimony, former prison nurse Belinda Wilson accused Dugan of being without remorse for his violent crimes while she treated him for knife wounds after a fellow inmate stabbed him in 1987.
"He would lay back in his cell at night and brag very loudly," she testified.
It takes one juror to spare Dugan's life. His defense team argues Dugan merits consideration for accepting responsibility that he alone killed Jeanine. Dugan pleaded guilty July 28.
He first offered to admit his guilt in 1985, but only if the death penalty was taken off the table. Prosecutors refused. They also didn't believe Dugan, who confused some of the crime's details. By that time, two other condemned men - including Rolando Cruz - were sitting on death row for the crime.
Attorneys for Dugan argue he cooperated long ago to help the wrongly accused men, both exonerated in 1995.
The sentencing hearing is expected to stretch well into November. DuPage Circuit Judge George Bakalis is presiding.
More attacks by Brian Dugan told
4 women testify at sentencing hearing
By Art Barnum Tribune reporter
October 21, 2009
Five more attacks by Brian Dugan on young west suburban women in the 1980s were detailed Tuesday by DuPage County prosecutors seeking the death penalty for the man convicted of the rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico, of Naperville.
Dugan was sentenced to 30 years each for aggravated criminal sexual assault in two of those attacks -- one against a 21-year-old North Aurora woman on May 6, 1985, and the other against a 16-year-old Aurora girl on May 29, 1985.
Both women were in court Tuesday to testify against Dugan, as were two other alleged victims of Dugan's.
The testimony from the four, each of them crying at some point while on the stand, included allegations that Dugan used either knives or pipes in the attacks.
After Tuesday's court hearing, the four women met with Tom and Pat Nicarico in the courthouse hallway, offering their support for the parents of Jeanine, who was raped and murdered by Dugan on Feb. 23, 1983. Dugan has confessed to the Nicarico crime, a move he hopes will persuade jurors to spare his life.
On Nov. 19, 1985, Dugan confessed to the two 1985 aggravated criminal sexual assaults.
The confessions to those crimes came on the same day Dugan received two consecutive life sentences for the murders of a 7-year-old Somonauk girl and a 27-year-old Aurora nurse.
Along with hearing from the two assault victims, the jury that will decide Dugan's fate heard from a third woman who testified that she was abducted from outside an Aurora laundromat on May 13, 1983, when she was 21, and driven to an Oswego area farm field, where she was brutally beaten before escaping. Charges were not filed, but the woman identified Dugan in court as her assailant.
A fourth woman told the jury that when she was 19, walking home to her parents' Geneva home on May 28, 1985, she was attacked by Dugan on a roadside, but she escaped his headlock and ran.
"I had a couple of brothers and know how to get out of a headlock," she told the jury.
She said that as she ran away, Dugan got in his car, drove by and waved. He was not charged in that alleged incident either.
Jurors also heard testimony that on Nov. 7, 1983, Dugan paid a prostitute he picked on an Aurora street $50 for an encounter before beating her up and stealing back the same $50. The victim is now deceased.
Defense complains about Birkett’s conduct
October 22, 2009
By ERIKA WURST firstname.lastname@example.org
WHEATON — The defense called for a mistrial Wednesday as jurors were rushed out of the courtroom following questions posed by prosecutors to the father of one of Brian Dugan's victims.
Michael Ackerman, whose daughter Melissa was abducted and murdered by Dugan in 1985, was asked by DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett if he supported the prosecution of Dugan for the murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville. The question, defense attorney Steven Greenberg complained, was clearly out of line.
The emotional impact on Dugan's previous victims should have no bearing on the sentence Dugan receives in the Nicarico murder, Greenberg argued. By asking that question, Birkett was planting seeds in the jurors' minds, Greenberg said.
"We move for a mistrial," Greenberg said angrily. "(Birkett) knows better."
Judge George Bakalis said he would not declare a mistrial. While Birkett's question may have been improper, Bakalis said, it would be impossible for Greenberg to think jurors would interpret Ackerman's father as feeling any other way about Dugan.
Greenberg also was angry that Birkett placed his hand on the shoulder of Opal Horton, Melissa Ackerman's former best friend, after she stepped off the stand Wednesday after giving emotional testimony.
Greenberg said Birkett showed emotion toward a witness in front of jurors, which is not allowed in open court.
Jurors hear Dugan's 1985 taped confession
Melissa Ackerman (left) was 7 years old when she was abducted and killed by convicted murderer Brian Dugan (right) in 1985.
October 22, 2009
By ERIKA WURST email@example.com
In an audio recording played in DuPage County court Thursday morning, convicted murderer Brian Dugan talked about putting the broken lock back on the door of his car after ditching 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman's body on a secluded LaSalle County road.
During the taped confession from Nov. 16, 1985, Dugan talked casually about stopping at a local KFC for dinner on the night he snatched the Somonauk girl as she was riding her bike with a friend that morning.
Dugan also admitted to throwing away a shirt and sleeping bag that were in his possession during the abduction, and confessed to being under the influence of marijuana both before and after Ackerman's death.
In the sentencing hearing under way at the Wheaton courthouse, jurors will decide whether Dugan should get the death penalty for the murder of another little girl, Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville, two years earlier.
Jurors passed around photographs of the creek where Ackerman's body was found –her pink shoes and blue jeans tossed like garbage in weeds nearby. Their heads were down as they handed each other a large picture of Ackerman's pink beaded necklace that helped police identify the abandoned body.
"Missy," her nickname, was spelled out in heart beads.
Dugan made a brief attempt at remorse before detectives ended the recorded interview 24 years ago.
As Dugan listened from court today, his own voice pleading for mercy back in 1985, he remained emotionless.
"Is there anything you've left out?" a detective asked near the tape's conclusion.
"No," Dugan said dully. "Except that I don't understand why it happened and … saying I'm sorry isn't going to change anything, is it? But I am."
The trial continues this afternoon, when prosecutors will delve into the Dugan's third murder victim, 27-year-old Geneva nurse Donna Schnorr. Dugan is serving a life sentence for the murders of Ackerman and Schnorr.
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