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Jury Decides Against Death Penalty in Brown's Chicken Case

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The man convicted for his role in the Brown’s Chicken massacre will not face the death penalty. A jury decided yesterday that Juan Luna will spend his life in prison. Chicago Public Radio’s Lynette Kalsnes reports.

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The jury already convicted Luna of seven counts of murder last week. This week, prosecutors tried to convince them Luna should be sentenced to death, and defense attorneys tried to convince them he should be spend his life in prison.

The jury deliberated for two hours yesterday, and decided to spare Luna death row.

Luna gave his attorney a big hug. He and his family cried with relief.

Diane Clayton cried a different type of tears. Her son died in the restaurant.

CLAYTON: I don’t know how I feel right now. I just know justice was not done. My son deserved better than this. The other six victims deserved better than this.

Clayton wanted the death penalty. She says she knows it won’t bring her son back.

CLAYTON: You have to go on, but you never forget, you never forget.

The daughters of Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt, the restaurant owners killed that night, opposed the death penalty. The eldest daughter, Jennifer Shilling, said she and her sisters respected the jury’s decision. Now they hope Luna will take responsibility.

SHILLING: It is an insult to us that he and his family continue to proclaim his innocence, despite the jury’s unanimous decision. The Luna family has indicated they pray for the victims’ families. However, until they admit Juan Luna is guilty, their prayers are of little comfort.

Shilling says she and her sisters want to return to their daily routines, to their jobs and families.

SHILLING: We’ve been re-victimized in court every day for the last 5 weeks of this trial. We are exhausted and emotionally spent.

But they’re not done. The other defendant, James Degorski, still awaits trial. Prosecutors plan to try again for the death penalty for Degorski.

Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Cassidy said he respected the jury’s decision in Luna’s case. He says jurors worked hard, and set aside several weeks of their lives.

CASSIDY: I argued in court that it would be an injustice if Juan Luna did not get the death penalty. I feel that way, but I certainly respect their decision.

BURCH: We’re very pleased at today’s verdict. It’s our belief the family is very happy at this verdict.

Clarence Burch is one of Luna’s defense attorneys. He says Luna plans to appeal his conviction. Burch offered condolences to the victims’ families.

BURCH: No one really wins in a situation like this. Juan Luna, even though he’s looking at a natural life situation, we think that he will be vindicated one day as a result of the jury’s faith in him at this point, by not allowing him to die.

The death penalty decision was very close. Luna was spared a death sentence by a single vote. The jury has to be unanimous in Illinois. Otherwise, the sentence is life in prison without hope of parole.

POLISHAK: Whatever the vote was, we decided, we’re not going to press the issue, because it’s a personal preference.

John Polishak is a Chicago plumber who was one of the jurors. He voted for a death sentence for Luna. And he says he was a little frustrated there was one hold out, because he felt the evidence against Luna was strong.

He says jurors were convinced by a palm print and DNA evidence on a chicken dinner found at the restaurant, as well as Luna’s videotaped confession. But he says jurors were careful not to pressure each other throughout the trial.

POLISHAK: Once they leave this courthouse, they have to live with that. You never want to have any doubts. So why would you force an opinion or your decision on that person?

Polishak got emotional talking about the impact the lengthy trial, and being sequestered, has had on jurors.

POLISHAK: You can see people were breaking down, I want to see my kids, my daughter, my wife. You realize how precious life is, and the decisions we make, reflects us. And unfortunately Juan Luna made the wrong decisions. Well, unfortunately, there’s consequences. You know. No one is perfect, but you have to be held accountable for your actions.

The defense played an emotional interview with Luna’s 10-year-old son in court Wednesday. The boy said he wants his dad to come home.

Polishak says that separation’s sad. But he says Luna made a decision to commit murder. And Polishak says that unfortunately, like in divorce, now it’s the child who will suffer most.

I’m Lynette Kalsnes, Chicago Public Radio.


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