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- Victim's impact statement from Pat Nicarico, Jeanine's mother
- Victim's impact statement from Tom Nicarico, Jeanine's father
- Victim's impact statement from Chris Nicarico, Jeanine's oldest sister
- Images following the death sentence of Brian Dugan
- Images of Brian Dugan's victims
- Images of Brian Dugan
- Images of Nicarico's wrongly accused
- Images from Brian Dugan's trial
Brian Dugan showed no humanity when he kicked in the front door of the Naperville home where a 10-year-old girl was alone, sick with the flu.
He showed no compassion when he abducted, sexually assaulted and bludgeoned Jeanine Nicarico, then dumped her brutalized body, as if she were trash.
In delivering Wednesday's death penalty verdict, a DuPage County jury showed the three-time killer no mercy. The panel agreed Dugan should be executed for the Feb. 25, 1983, crime.
The jury, led by a Purple Heart veteran from Naperville, reached the verdict on Veterans Day after nearly 11 hours of deliberations over two days.
The sad saga that began with the wrongful prosecutions of three men brought out both the darkest and most uplifting sides of humanity.
And one last plot twist played out before the final page was written.
Nearly a dozen sheriff's deputies lined the packed courtroom, where a security shield was erected to separate Dugan from the gallery. Pat and Tom Nicarico, joined by daughters Chris and Kathy and surrounded by other victims, waited.
A similar scene played out the night before, when jurors announced they had a verdict, then quickly asked for more time to deliberate. Some members who later spoke to the Daily Herald confirmed they were going to spare Dugan's life that first night, since they lacked a unanimous death decision, but quickly realized it was premature. Within minutes, though, they sent word more time was needed.
DuPage Circuit Judge George Bakalis soon sequestered them overnight.
They resumed that next morning. By 2:35 p.m. Wednesday, the Nicaricos and other families had a chance to exhale when the answer finally came - death.
Gasps of surprise quickly gave way to uncontrolled tears. Outside court, they hugged each other and broke into spontaneous applause for prosecutors.
"This decision is definitely a relief for us," Pat Nicarico said. "We are shedding tears, not of sadness but of joy. A death sentence is never a joyful kind of thing, but Brian Dugan is somebody who deserves it, in our minds. We realize this will never really give any of us closure, but it does give us some sort of relief, a small measure of closure.
"We are very confident that this verdict was the correct punishment for this man, and we very much thank the jury, the law enforcement and the people who did all of the work for all of these years to get us to this point."
Dugan joins 15 other condemned men on Illinois' death row, though no one has been executed in Illinois for more than a decade and movements to lift a death penalty moratorium have gone nowhere.
At 53, he is third-oldest death row inmate and will be afforded about a decade of appeals before he would face lethal injection.
Dugan often spoke of his fear of the death penalty in taped interviews played in court dating back to 1985 when he began serving life prison terms for two other sex slayings and a series of Kane County attacks on women who survived. Most recently, he said it wouldn't matter, as it would offer "an early release."
Dugan, keeping the same demeanor throughout the six-week sentencing hearing, did not visibly react after learning his fate. Afterward, he thanked his lawyers for waging a hard-fought battle that is estimated to cost $750,000 to $1 million for just the defense's side. His defense is being paid through a taxpayer-supported state fund established to afford poor defendants in capital murder cases a fair trial. Ironically, the Nicarico case helped lead to the fund, among other reforms.
Dugan also longed for closure.
"I thought we had it," defense attorney Steven Greenberg said, referring to the lengthy deliberations. "Brian has always wanted for the Nicaricos and himself to have their day in court so the truth could come out. He was happy it finally did, and if, after hearing all of that, this was the jury's decision, you have to respect it."
Dugan pleaded guilty July 28 to killing Jeanine, a bubbly brown-eyed fifth-grader with a dimpled smile and trusting heart. Prosecutors refused to spare his life in a plea deal. So, Dugan took a gamble with a jury.
DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett led the prosecution team of Romas Mockaitis and Michael A. Wolfe, the criminal chief. Birkett called it a "true and just verdict."
Added Wolfe: "He tried to play so many cards in his little game, and the jury obviously simply did not buy it. I think they used a lot of common sense and a lot of street smarts.
"Truth always wins."
Rolando Cruz might agree. He spent 11 years in prison, many of them on death row, for Jeanine's murder before a judge acquitted him in 1995. Cruz, 46, who opposes the death penalty, said Wednesday justice was served.
"I pray for all the victims, as well as all the families of the victims, that now we may all ascertain some sort of closure," Cruz said. "If not just for ourselves but then, God willing, for one another."
Bakalis will impose the jury's death sentence Dec. 16. Dugan was a free man for just four years and nine months between 1972 and 1985. Still, he committed a lifetime of violence.
Jeanine was Dugan's first murder victim. But before police caught up with him, he also killed nurse Donna Schnorr, 27, of Geneva, and 7-year-old Missy Ackerman of Somonauk, snatched while riding her pink bicycle with friend Opal Horton. Horton survived.
She testified, along with several other survivors who encountered Dugan outside a laundromat, a gas station, a shopping mall, while driving home, leaving work or simply walking down the street.
"It's a relief for everybody," Horton said of the verdict. "He is nothing."
Sharon Grajek was 21 when Dugan abducted and sexually assaulted her in 1985 outside her North Aurora home. She, too, welcomed the verdict.
"He's already going to spend the rest of his life in prison," said Grajek, 45. "So, what would another life sentence say? Nothing. As the number of crimes he's guilty of increases, and the details of those crimes surface, so should the punishment."
They were there to support Jeanine's family, but it was often the Nicaricos who could be seen offering them a comforting hug in the courthouse hallway.
Karen Schweitzer, clinging to a small blue teddy bear made from Donna's nurse scrubs, drove three hours each day from her home in DeKalb to serve as a voice for her slain sister.
"All of the families have grieved our losses for years, while he's bargained for years for deals," she said. "We have no sympathy for this evil, so-called person."
Added Roger Schnorr, her brother: "Even though we'll never get back Melissa, Jeanine or Donna, (this was something) we had to take care of."
Greenberg, joined by Matthew McQuaid, Robert Miller, Allan Sincox and Jeffrey York, argued that Dugan is a diagnosed psychopath who because of the mental and emotional disturbance lacked the capacity to comprehend his actions. Experts testified that Dugan, similar to other psychopaths, has a defect or inactivity in an area of his brain that processes emotion, inhibition, judgment and self-control.
Dugan agreed to admit in 1985 that he alone killed Jeanine if prosecutors would not seek the death penalty. They refused. They also didn't believe him, as Cruz and co-defendant Alejandro Hernandez sat on death row. His attorneys argued Dugan tried to do right by the men.
Back then, Ed Cisowski was a skeptical state police official who interviewed Dugan a half-dozen times. Cisowski soon stood nearly alone in his belief Dugan was the perpetrator and was forced to defend himself against charges that he fed Dugan details.
"After all this time, I wanted to see how it finished," he said. "Somehow, I knew we would get here one day. I truly hope the Nicaricos finally get their closure."