Sentencing phase of Degorski trial under way

October 5, 2009 (CHICAGO) James Degorski faces the death penalty. This is the final phase of this sentencing process. Last week, we heard from the state. They called several witnesses. We heard from victims' relatives and also from a girlfriend who alleges Degorski beat her and even kidnapped her. As the defense began calling witnesses Monday, we heard from several people, including a girlfriend who tells a very different story about Degorski.

A woman who says she dated James Degorski on and off for several years testified on his behalf Monday. Jennifer Peters testified that she lived with Degorski twice, once in Wauconda and briefly in Arizona.

Peters actually waved to Degorski when she entered the courtroom, and Degorski showed the most emotion in this entire trial, blushing and appearing to wipe a tear. She testified to his good nature and patience with her immaturity. When asked if he was ever violent toward her, she said, "He never, ever, ever hit me."

Degorski was convicted last week for the murders of seven people at the Brown's Chicken and Pasta in Palatine in 1993. The same jury that convicted him found his eligible for the death penalty.

This final phase is the sentencing hearing, in which the jury will decide whether to impose a death sentence or life in prison.

The defense also called four Cook County correctional officers who testified that in a typically combative, violent environment Degorski has been a compliance prisoner, never arguing or fighting with inmates or officers.

A Captain Everhart testified that Degorski was placed in maximum security for his own safety after an officer beat Degorski in 2002, breaking Degorski's jaw.

The captain was asked, "Was he placed in special incarceration for anything he did?" The captain replied, "He was there for his own safety."

An Officer Reyes testified that Degorski was so not a threat that the officer allowed Degorski to assist in the unit.

The officers also testified that, due to his good behavior, Degorski was moved to a unit they call the "old man's deck," an area they say is for people known to be peaceful.

Under cross-examination, Captain Everhart also testified that he has noticed in the past that sometimes inmates facing a death penalty are known to act well while they are on trial.

The defense will continue calling witnesses Tuesday. At some point this week we're expecting to hear from Degorski's family and to hear more about alleged physical and sexual abuse they say Degorski suffered early in life.

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