Shaw: A victory for fairness and ‘justice for all’
By Andy Shaw Guest Commentaryfirstname.lastname@example.org December 19, 2012 7:54PM
Andy Shaw is president and chief executive officer of the Better Government Association.
Updated: January 21, 2013 3:09PM
It never was about Rich Daley, the former Chicago mayor. Or his nephew, R.J. Vanecko. Or even David Koschman, the 21-year-old victim of a 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 into 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 publicly saying 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. Key interviews were either misrepresented or never even conducted, including Vanecko never being questioned.
The initial inquiry concluded that the diminutive Koschman was the aggressor, so no charges were filed against linebacker-size Vanecko. Koschman’s head hit the pavement so hard he never regained consciousness and died 11 days later.
His widowed mother, Nanci, 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 contradicted the original conclusions. The cops and county prosecutors rejected the newspaper’s findings, defending their original investigation. Not surprising — the current state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, was one of Devine’s top assistants in 2004.
The BGA filed a legal brief in support of Nanci Koschman’s request for a special prosecutor from outside the system to take a fresh look at the case. We argued that justice could be ensured only by an outsider with the “courage and fortitude to stand up for transparency and accountability.”
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Toomin agreed with the BGA and with Koschman attorney Locke Bowman’s similar argument, and a former U.S. attorney, Dan Webb, was appointed special prosecutor. His investigation led to a special grand jury 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 authorities 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 bill may reach $1 million — 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 and chief executive of the Better Government Association.
He can be reached at email@example.com or 312-386-9097.