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Man convicted of restaurant killings gets life

/ Source: The Associated Press

A jury chose a life prison sentence over the death penalty Thursday for a man convicted of killing seven people at a suburban Chicago restaurant 14 years ago during a robbery that netted less than $2,000.

Juan Luna, 33, and his relatives cried as the decision was read. Luna stood up and bear-hugged defense attorney Stephen Richards.

Luna's younger brother was emotional as he and other family members left the courtroom.

"I don't think anybody should ever die, including my brother," Jorge Luna said. Other family members hugged lead defense attorney Clarence Burch as he walked out.

Lawyers portrayed Juan Luna — convicted last week in the execution-style killings at Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine — as both a loving father who should live and a cold-blooded killer who should die for his crimes.

"The same blood is flowing through his heart and veins that is flowing through ours," Burch told the jury. "Before you can kill him, he has to be less than a human. The more you minimize him, then it's easier to kill him."

But prosecutor Richard Devine countered that Luna willingly went to the Palatine restaurant at closing time Jan. 8, 1993, and chose to take part in the brutal shooting and stabbing deaths of seven people.

"Now it's time to make the defendant responsible for those choices," he said. "These are murders without reason. These are murders in the coldest blood."

Prosecutors say Luna, then 18, and his high school friend James Degorski and shot and stabbed the victims during a robbery that netted less than $2,000.

Bodies put in cooler, freezer
Killed were the restaurant owners and five employees. Their bodies were found in a walk-in cooler and freezer.

Degorski has pleaded not guilty to the murders and will be tried separately.

The closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial included testimony from family members describing Luna as a devoted father and brother. He is married and has a young boy.

But two former friends testified Luna killed cats, once electrocuting one with a car battery and another time throwing a kitten on a leash from a car traveling at 55 mph.