It was never about Rich Daley, the former mayor. Or his nephew, R.J. Vanecko. Or even David Koschman, the victim of the lethal punch Vanecko allegedly threw during a booze-fueled altercation on Division Street in 2004.
It was always about a justice system that must be characterized by its first four letters — j-u-s-t — and by its fairness and impartiality.
That’s a pillar of civil society, a cornerstone of democracy and a basic principle of good government. When it fails the family of one victim, it fails all of us.
And that’s apparently what happened with the initial investigation of Koschman’s death, which was riddled with so many troubling law enforcement lapses and disconnects that many observers, including the Better Government Association, believe that basic tenets of justice were undermined or ignored.
No one is saying publicly that Daley pulled any strings. But his police department handled the investigation. His friend and political ally Dick Devine was Cook County state’s attorney at the time. And this is Chicago, where there’s a Way.
So files went missing. Police reports got changed. And key interviews were either misrepresented or never even conducted
The initial probe concluded the diminutive Koschman was the aggressor, so no charges were filed against linebacker-sized Vanecko, who threw the fatal punch in a death the medical examiner labeled a homicide. Koschman’s head hit the pavement so hard he never regained consciousness and died 11 days later.
His mother, Nanci — already a widow — lost her only son, and her ensuing years were wracked by grief, loneliness and a sense of injustice.
That same concern also prompted Sun-Times investigative reporters to revisit the case, unearthing and publishing disturbing new details that contradict the original conclusions.
Local cops and prosecutors rejected the newspaper’s findings, maintaining the veracity of their original investigation. Not surprising — the current state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, was one of Devine’s top deputies in ’04.
So last year the BGA filed an amicus brief in support of Nanci Koschman’s request for a "special" prosecutor from outside the system to take a fresh look.
Our brief argued that justice could be ensured only by an outsider with the "courage and fortitude to stand up for transparency and accountability."
Judge Michael Toomin agreed with the BGA and with Koschman attorney Locke Bowman’s similar argument, so legal superstar Dan Webb was appointed, and this week he announced that a special grand jury was charging Vanecko with involuntary manslaughter.
The indictment labels Vanecko the aggressor, not Koschman. A complete 180.
Webb also hinted at additional charges if there’s evidence of misconduct by the officials who handled the original investigation.
As for Nanci Koschman, she says it’s not about sending Vanecko to jail because that would punish another mother.
She simply wanted to visit David’s grave to deliver a message: A Koschman is entitled to the same justice as a Daley or a Vanecko — justice that protects the innocent and punishes the guilty, regardless of clout or connections.
Message received. It’s taken too long and cost too much money— Webb’s final bill may reach a million dollars — but you can’t put a price tag on justice. You can, thankfully, put the j-u-s-t back in. At least in this case.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-386-9097.