Ill. man escapes death penalty over 7 slayings

Image: Javier Maldonado, Zyanya Fuentes
Javier Maldonado, left, is consoled by girlfriend Zyanya Fuentes during a news conference in Chicago after a jury sentenced James Degorski to life in prison Tuesday. Maldonado's father was among seven people kiilled at an Ill. restaurant in 1993.Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Illinois jury decided Tuesday that a former handyman will spend the rest of his life in prison, rather than be sent to death row, for the 1993 slayings of seven people at a suburban Chicago restaurant.

The jurors last month convicted James Degorski, 37, in the killings at Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine and found him eligible for the death penalty. But they spared his life — just as another jury did two years ago when Degorski's accomplice, Juan Luna, was sentenced to life in prison after one juror refused to vote for the death penalty.

The final vote in Degorski's case was 10-2 for the death penalty, jury forewoman Cynthia Rathburn told reporters. By law, the vote for capital punishment must be unanimous.

Degorski's mother expressed relief that her son's life was spared.

"I appreciate the jury's decision," Degorski's mother, Patricia Degorski, said after the verdict was read.

"My heart goes out to what the victims' families have been through this whole trial," she said.

Abusive father
The restaurant's owners and five employees were shot and stabbed and their bodies stacked in a walk-in cooler and freezer during a botched January 1993 robbery that netted less than $2,000. The murders kept the small town on edge for almost a decade before Degorski's former girlfriend came forward.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, witnesses, including Patricia Degorski, told jurors that James Degorski grew up in a home with a violent, sexually abusive father who would occasionally tie his children to a bedpost to beat them.

But Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Tom Biesty said Degorski showed no mercy toward the victims.

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