Daley nephew pleads not guilty in Gold Coast death

December 10, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Vanecko pleaded not guilty Monday in the 2004 death of David Koschman.

The judge assigned to the case used to work for Vanecko's uncle, former Mayor Daley.

Vanecko made no comment when he arrived at the Leighton Criminal Court Building for his arraignment Monday morning. His attorneys, too, chose to say nothing.

Vanecko is 39 now and lives in California. But it was eight years ago -- when he was in Chicago -- that the nephew of the former mayor allegedly threw a punch in an alcohol-fueled street quarrel that cost 21-year-old Koschman his life.

Vanecko is charged with involuntary manslaughter, the result of a special grand jury looking into allegations that police and prosecutors looked the other way in the Koschman death because of who Vanecko's uncle is.

The Vanecko case was randomly assigned by computer to Associate Judge Arthur Hill, who joined the bench in 2003. Hill promptly announced in court that he was an assistant under then-state's attorney Richard Daley, that Daley appointed him to the CTA board, and that Hill was later a top deputy under State's Attorney Dick Devine, who held the office when the Koschman death occurred.

To the attorneys, Hill said, "I want to make sure the parties know that. This court believes I can be fair and impartial."

"I think he's a very fair judge," said Kent College of Law Prof. Richard Kling. "I'm surprised that he didn't recuse himself for the appearance of impropriety."

While Judge Hill didn't recuse himself from the case, lawyers on either side can ask for a different judge, and they don't have to explain why.

Special prosecutor Dan Webb left court Monday without comment, and Vanecko attorney Tom Breen wouldn't reveal his intentions.

"The special prosecutor may feel that the appearance of impropriety is so strong they may actually make a move for it," said DePaul College of Law Prof. Leonard Cavise. "I don't think the defense is going to do it."

It would be tough to find any judge in the criminal courts building who doesn't have some professional or political connection to the former mayor and state's attorney. It may be that Judge Hill will indeed hear the case, but he has given the attorneys on both sides until next Monday to declare whether they want another judge.

Vanecko remains out on bond, but he must appear in court when his case resumes in a week.

Monday's court appearance came more than eight and a half years after Koschman's death. It was in the early morning hours of April 25, 2004, when Koschman was punched, fell and hit his head. He died 11 days later.

On May 20, 2004, police conducted a line-up with Richard Vanecko, but no positive ID was made.

Then, on March 1, 2011, despite media pressure, Chicago police officially "closed" the Koschman case.

On April 23 of this year a judge appointed Dan Webb as a special prosecutor. Then, last Monday, Vanecko was charged with involuntary manslaughter in Koschman's death.

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