Emotional day of testimony in Dugan trial

October 21, 2009 3:20:27 PM PDT
A young woman who escaped from convicted murderer Brian Dugan when she was a child testified today at Dugan's sentencing hearing. Opal Horton told jurors about the day Dugan kidnapped her best friend, 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman, who was later found murdered.

Dugan is facing the death penalty for the murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico.

Wednesday, a man convicted but exonerated of charges in the Nicarico murder was also in the courtroom.

Initially an officer told Rolando Cruz he was not allowed into the courtroom because he had been subpoenaed as a possible defense witness in the trial. However, after consulting with the defense attorneys, they took his name off of the witness list, and this afternoon he was allowed in.

Cruz has spent many hours inside the courthouse, but this time it's different. He is here to witness the death penalty hearing for the man who killed the girl that he was originally convicted of killing. He spent a decade on death row.

"Years of torment, suffering, aftermath that I have been speaking about lately to everybody, it's coming back. It's showing itself. This is almost 27 years later. Here we are, almost 14 years since I have been released and we're finally getting somewhere," Cruz said.

He wants to see Dugan, who has confessed to the crime and is interested in hearing the prosecutor's case against Dugan. After being wrongly prosecuted with the crime, he has no personal beef with Dugan.

"He didn't incarcerate me. That is disgusting what he did. It's inexcusable. It's inhuman what he did. It's an animal. My incarceration had nothing to do with him per se," Cruz said.

Dugan is serving life in prison for several other murders. Jurors heard from Melissa Ackerman's best friend about the day she was killed. Opal Horton was playing with Ackerman and said Dugan "grabbed me by the neck and threw me in the car... like a ball." She escaped by crawling out of the car window. She watched Dugan drive away "while I saw Missy beating on the window."

Cruz says it's ironic his case led to the death penalty moratorium in Illinois, and that could help keep Dugan alive.

"It's much worse. It's a living hell, if I can use that word, for him to serve the rest of his life in there than what it is to receive a death penalty," Cruz said.

Cruz says he feels at peace after seeing Dugan on trial in the courthouse.

Wednesday was also the first time that Horton has told the story of her encounter with Dugan. It was very emotional. She hugged Ackerman's father after the testimony.

Her father testified about having breakfast with his daughter the morning se was killed. It was the last time he ever saw her alive.


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