Nicaricos testify at Dugan sentencing

October 23, 2009 8:38:57 PM PDT
It was a day of powerful emotions as the parents of Jeanine Nicarico testified at the sentencing hearing for Brian Dugan, the admitted killer of their 10-year-old daughter. There were tears in the courtroom as Tom and Pat Nicarico and their oldest daughter, Chris, all read victim-impact statements.

Over the last three weeks, prosecutors have sought to make the case that Brian Dugan is a manipulator, a remorseless psychopath who belongs on death row. Prosecutors rested their case Friday afternoon after hearing powerful statements from the Nicarico family.

Hundreds of times through the years, they have gone to court for all the hearings and the trials, a seemingly endless journey of pain for Tom and Pat Nicario, now 26 years after the murder of their daughter. Jeanine's confessed killer, now 54, sat quietly at the defense table, hoping at the end of this sentencing trial that the jury will spare him the death penalty.

On Friday afternoon, as the jury listened intently, Tom and Pat Nicarico and their daughter delivered powerful victim impact statements each recalling the joy of a 10-year-old smile and contagious giggle and the horror of the day she was "ripped from our home." Chris Nicario said through tears, "This has continued to haunt us and bring fear to our lives that we didn't even know existed."

Tom Nicarico told the jury of the years of profound sadness, anger and fear.

"No longer is the boogie man a fairytale," said Tom Nicarico. "He is for real. He came to the Nicarico home in February of 1983."

And Pat Nicario, wondered aloud about terror her baby went through in the final hours of her life.

"I believe it is too late for sympathy or remorse," said Pat Nicarico. "There is no apology that can take away the pain and fear that our little Jeanine endured. This man made a decision, a very bad decision, one that only he could have changed. But he chose not to."

Dugan, head slightly bowed, never looked at the Nicaricos.

Each of the Nicaricos made clear Friday that they have not and will not allow the murder to further erode their sense of well-being.

"We're determined not to allow the evil done to Jeanine to also rape and bury us," said Tom Nicarico.

And when the trial resumes Wednesday, the Nicaricos will be back once again. Their statements did not directly ask the jury to impose the death penalty. But the Nicaricos have supported the prosecution's efforts. Next week and over the next couple of weeks, the defense will attempt to make the case that Dugan has accepted responsibility, shown remorse and is deserving of some measure of mercy.

The Nicarico family only spent about 15 minutes on the stand.

"She was a cheerful, happy-go-lucky, loving and sensitive little girl. She was truly a joy in our lives. I often wonder what she would be like if she was with us today. That is something I will never know," said Pat Nicarico.

Jeanine was home sick from school in February 1983 when she was kidnapped, assaulted and bludgeoned to death.

"Where was her father when she needed him? I was unable to help her," Tom Nicarico said.

"I didn't get a chance to give that last hug or kiss to our little sister. Instead, we now have to pray to our little angel, Jeanine, to give us strength and courage to move on without that beautiful smile in our daily lives," said Chris Nicarico.

On Wednesday, Opal Horton told jurors about the day Dugan kidnapped her best friend, 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman, who was later found murdered.

Also Wednesday, a man convicted but exonerated of charges in the Nicarico murder was 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 was allowed in.

Cruz has spent many hours inside the courthouse, but this time it's different. He was there 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.

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 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.

Ackerman's father testified about having breakfast with his daughter the morning she was killed. It was the last time he ever saw her alive.


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