Dugan moved to death row in Pontiac prison

December 17, 2009 6:06:16 AM PST
Convicted murderer Brian Dugan was formally sentenced to death for the 1983 kidnapping, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville. A jury sentenced Dugan, 53, to death last month. On Wednesday, a judge made the sentence official. Though the case is being appealed, the sentencing ends a very long, emotional ordeal that dates back almost 27 years.

The judge set February 25 as the execution date for Dugan. That is, however, just the required selection of a date. February 25 will come and go because of many appeals that will now go to the state supreme court.

Dugan, meanwhile, has been moved to death row at the state prison in Pontiac.

Jeanine Nicarico's family - her sisters, Chris and Cathy - and the family of Donna Schnorr - another of Dugan's victims - are beginning to see an end to a quarter century of trials and appeals and pain.

They were all in court Wednesday when Judge George Bakalis set an execution date for Dugan. It's a date on paper only - for there are automatic appeals, and one of them is based on how the jury reached its decision.

The night before the final verdict, the jury reached a decision that would have sentenced Dugan to life. Dugan's attorneys argued in court Wednesday that the verdict, which was recorded on a signed verdict form, should have been accepted, and to allow the jury to resume deliberations and then reach a different decision amounts to double jeopardy.

"That's what the jury did here. They said life was appropriate. Then they said, 'Well you know, we've changed our mind.' That's double jeopardy. Well, in every other case, it's too late. You can't change your mind once you say this is our decision," said Steve Greenberg, Dugan attorney.

But prosecutors say that a verdict is a verdict only when it's read in court, and the jurors are polled, and in this case the jury chose -- on its own -- to continue deliberating, agreeing the following day that a death sentence was the right decision.

The judge Wednesday said there was nothing wrong with that process.

"I think he made the right verdict. The decision was right. We all did the right thing," said Sue Grbic, juror.

Grbic was on the Dugan jury and was one of the two members who originally chose life in prison for Dugan, but she felt more deliberation was needed. She and the other juror changed their minds.

"It wasn't troublesome 'cause we got the right verdict and the right decision was made, and I'm happy with the decision," said Grbic.

Death penalty appeals can typically take 10 to 12 years, but the DuPage County state's attorney thinks this one will be less.

"These are merely sentencing issues, so it'll be shortened. My hope is five years or less," said Joe Birkett, DuPage County state's attorney.

Judge Bakalis applauded the jury in the Dugan sentencing case, calling them one of the most dedicated, thoughtful and hardworking juries he's ever encountered. In sentencing Dugan to death by lethal injection, the judge said, "I believe you, Mr. Dugan believe in the recesses of your mind that this is the appropriate sentence."

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