Bail denied for defendants charged with gunning down seven peop

Sunday, May 19, 2002

CHICAGO -- A judge refused to grant bail Saturday for two defendants charged in the 1993 slayings of seven people at a suburban Chicago restaurant. Prosecutors indicated they may seek the death penalty.

"These two defendants massacred seven people," said Linas Kelecius, a Cook County assistant state's attorney. He asked that they be held without bail. Juan Luna, 28, of Carpentersville and James Degorski, 29, of Indianapolis are charged with seven counts of first-degree murder.

They were arrested Thursday, two months after Degorski's former girlfriend went to police with information about the killings. She had kept the secret for nearly ten years, fearful that Degorski would make good on a threat to kill her, Kelecius said.

Seven months ago, the woman, a 26-year-old college student called Witness A, told her new boyfriend about the killings and they agonized over whether to come forward, Kelecius said.

"Witness A is the real hero in this case," he said. "She believed this mass-murderer would carry this out."

Twists and turns

The case has been filled with twists and turns over the years, with police and news media identifying possible breaks that never panned out. A large task force of investigators had dwindled to just a few officers in recent years.

Despite false leads in the past, Kelecius said police believed Witness A because she knew a detail that had never been made public. She said Luna and Degorski told her that one of the victims shot in restaurant's the cooler vomited french fries before he died.

She told authorities that before the murders, Luna said he wanted to kill someone and Degorski said he would help.

The two were arrested after the police taped a 45-minute telephone call that Witness A made to Degorski, the prosecutor told the judge.

During the conversation, she said that police were asking questions and asked Degorski what "cover story" he wanted her to use. Degorski never denied involvement in the killings and told her what she should say, Kelecius said.

The prosecutor said Luna made a videotaped confession and Degorski made an oral confession and began to make a videotaped confession, but stopped before it was finished.

Seven people were slain around closing time on Jan. 8, 1993. The victims were forced inside a cooler and a walk-in refrigerator. All were shot with a .38-caliber revolver that belonged to Degorski, Kelecius said.

The gun held six bullets, but the defendants came with extra ammunition. There were 24 gunshot wounds among the victims, and both men used the gun, he said. Some of the victims also were stabbed.

Luna, a former employee of the restaurant, also was linked to the crime with DNA evidence found on a chicken dinner he ordered before they began killing, Kelecius said. Degorski was angry with Luna for eating the greasy meal because he was afraid Luna would leave fingerprints, the prosecutor said.

The two wore latex gloves during the killings, he said.

Luna had once been charged with deceptive practices in Algonquin, the prosecutor said. Degorski had previous arrests for possession of a stolen vehicle, unlawful restraint and battery, possession of marijuana and drunk driving, Kelecius said.

At the time of the murders, the defendants lived in Hoffman Estates and had been friends since they were classmates at Fremd High School in Palatine.

Past false alarms regarding arrests and suspects tempered one family's relief at the latest developments in the case.

"We hope this is a break we have been waiting for during the past nine years," said Jennifer Shilling, now a Democratic state representative in Wisconsin. Her parents, Richard and Lynn Wiese Ehlenfeldt, owned the restaurant and were among the seven victims.

The other victims were Thomas Mennes, Marcus Nellsen, Guadalupe Maldonado, Michael C. Castro and Rico L. Solis.

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