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Released report spotlights Chicago clout

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 11:50 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO – A special prosecutor released a report Tuesday that concluded there is no evidence then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley or his family members sought to impede an investigation into the 2004 death of a man punched by Daley's nephew. Lawyers for the victim's family, however, say the report demonstrates clout did play a role.

Fueled by stories over several years by the Chicago Sun-Times, investigations into the death of David Koschman raised pointed questions about whether justice was distorted for the sake of the powerful Daley family, whose influence has extended from City Hall to the White House.

The long-awaited, 162-page report suggests that authorities, at best, badly handled the investigation at key stages, including by continually asserting that Daley's nephew had acted in self-defense when much of the witness testimony contradicted that claim.

However, "there was no evidence that former Mayor Daley, his family, or others at their direction engaged in conduct to influence or attempted to influence" the investigations, said a statement released with the report by the special prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb.

Still, it details the alarm of some police investigators as it dawned on them that Richard J. Vanecko, the son of Daley's sister, Mary, was a figure in the early morning, street-side attack after he'd been out drinking in Chicago. It cites one officer as saying, "Holy crap, maybe the mayor's nephew is involved."

Speaking to reporters after the report's release, attorneys for Koschman's family said investigators didn't need to be explicitly instructed to protect a member of the Daley family.

Richard M. Daley served a record 22 years as Chicago's mayor before leaving office in 2011. His father, Richard J. Daley had served 21 years before dying in office in 1976.

One of Richard M. Daley's brothers, Bill Daley, served briefly as President Barack Obama's chief of staff.

"In this city, then and now, you don't need a phone call," attorney Locke Bowman said. "When it is Daley's (relative), it is, 'Holy crap, what do we do?' ... You better, first and foremost, think about covering yourself."

Another Koschman family attorney, Flint Taylor, cited parts of the report describing half-hearted or never-conducted interviews, as well as critical case files that went missing.

"It is fair to conclude here, as Mr. Webb chose not to, that this was an example of supreme clout," Taylor said. He added that he appreciated Webb, the special prosecutor, was using a higher standard of hard, demonstrable evidence.

Webb said Daley told his office he never had substantive discussions with his staff about the investigations and never directed anyone on how to deal with the matter. Daley's staff confirmed the statements.

Daley has been in the hospital for several days, and he didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the report made through his spokeswoman, Jackie Heard.

The report's release came after Vanecko, now 39 and living in Costa Mesa, Calif., pleaded guilty Friday to involuntary manslaughter. He'll serve 60 days in jail, followed by 60 days of home confinement.

His plea deal short-circuited the need for a trial, which had been scheduled to begin later this month, and it led a judge on Monday to order that Webb's final 2013 report be unsealed.

In the report, Webb describes how the fatal night in April 2004 unfolded.

Two groups of friends — one including Koschman and another including Vanecko — had been out drinking. The groups met by happenstance around 3 a.m. on Chicago's Division Street, a late-night hotspot.

Koschman, who was 21, 5-foot-6 and 125 pounds, bumped into one of Vanecko's friends and an argument started. Vanecko, who was 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, punched Koschman in the face and "ran from the scene," jumping into a taxi with one other friend. Koschman, who fell and struck his head on the pavement, died of his injuries nearly two weeks after that.

Later, according to the report, some investigators' accounts included the false claim that Koschman cursed at Vanecko and threatened to beat up the much larger man. That seemed to fit the narrative some investigators were pushing that Vanecko shouldn't be charged since Koschman was apparently the aggressor.

Webb considered charging some investigators with state crimes, but stopped short of doing that. The statute of limitation had already run out on any wrongdoing committed in 2004. And as for any malfeasance later, Webb concluded that evidence to prove criminal intent simply wasn't there.

The report only assessed if investigators should be charged under state law, and U.S. officials might want to examine whether federal laws were broken, Koschman family lawyers said.

At minimum, Bowman said, one consequence of the report should be the dismissals of any investigators who conducted the shoddy investigation and yet still have the same jobs.

"Heads need to roll," he said.

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