CHICAGO (AP) — A special prosecutor released a report Tuesday that concluded there is no evidence then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley or members of his family sought to impede an investigation into the 2004 death of a man punched by Daley's nephew. Lawyers for the victim's family, however, say the report shows that clout played a role.
The 162-page document on the death of David Koschman suggests that authorities badly handled the investigation at key stages, including by continually asserting that Daley's nephew had acted in self-defense when that was contradicted by much of the witness testimony. Key records were also lost or destroyed.
However, "there was no evidence that former Mayor Daley, his family, or others at their direction engaged in conduct to influence or attempted to influence" the investigations, according to a statement released with the report by the special prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb.
Still, the report details the alarm of some police investigators as it dawned on them that Daley's nephew, Richard J. Vanecko, was a figure in the early morning, street-side attack after he'd been out drinking in Chicago. It cites one officer as saying, "Holy crap, maybe the mayor's nephew is involved."
Fueled by stories in the Chicago Sun-Times, questions were raised about whether clout caused Cook County prosecutors and Chicago police to mishandle the original investigation. Koschman's family claimed there was a cover-up.
Speaking to reporters after the report's release, attorneys for Koschman's family said investigators at the time didn't need to be explicitly instructed that they must act to protect a member of what was the city's most powerful family. Richard M. Daley served a record 22 years as Chicago's mayor before leaving office in 2011, eclipsing only the 21-year term that his father served before dying in office in 1976.
"In this city, then and now, you don't need a phone call," attorney Locke Bowman said. "When it is Daley's (relative), it is, 'Holy crap, what do we do?' ... You better, first and foremost, think about covering yourself."
Another of the Koschman family attorneys, Flint Taylor, cited parts of the report describing half-hearted or never-conducted interviews and key case files that went missing.
"It is fair to conclude here, as Mr. Webb chose not to, that this was an example of supreme clout," said Taylor. He added that he appreciated Webb was using a higher standard of hard, demonstrable evidence, "But it is our obligation to connect the dots."
The special prosecutor said Daley told his office that he had never had substantive discussions with his staff about the investigations into Koschman's death and that he never directed anyone how to deal with the matter. Daley's staff confirmed the mayor's statements.
Daley has been in the hospital for several days, and he didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the report made through his spokeswoman, Jackie Heard.
The report's release came after Vanecko, now 39 and living in Costa Mesa, Calif., pleaded guilty Friday to involuntary manslaughter in a plea deal. He'll serve 60 days in jail, followed by 60 days of home confinement.
His plea agreement short-circuited the need for a trial, which had been scheduled to begin later this month, and it led a judge on Monday to order that Webb's final 2013 report be unsealed.
The report gives an overview of the April 2004 altercation that led to Koschman's death, describing how two groups of friends that had been out drinking met by happenstance around 3 a.m. on Chicago's Division Street, a late-night hotspot.
According to the report, Koschman, who was 21 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall and 125 pounds, bumped into one of Vanecko's friends and an argument ensued. Vanecko, who was 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, punched Koschman in the face and "ran from the scene," jumping into a taxi with one other friend. Vanecko fell backward when he was punched and struck his head on the pavement. He died of his injuries despite numerous surgeries over the next 11 days.
Webb wrote that when re-examining the case's handling, he primarily looked at whether one of four laws had been broken: official misconduct, obstructing justice, conspiracy, and tampering with public records. Because each has a three-year statute of limitations, none could have been applied to the handling of the original 2004 investigation, he wrote. He also cited the lack of potentially vital evidence, including emails and cellphone records.
Webb wrote that while reopened investigations in 2011 and 2012 were not subject to the statute of limitations, charges weren't warranted against any of the investigators.
"The Special Prosecutor does not believe he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt by legally sufficient evidence at trial that any employee of (the Chicago police) or (prosecutor's office) acted with the requisite criminal intent ... to violate Illinois law," he determined.
Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson also contributed to this report.
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