A Daley in the dock

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Kicking off the story...
  • Kicking off the story . . .
Thumbing through the Sun-Times's properly massive coverage Tuesday of the indictment of Richard Vanecko, I was surprised to discover that the paper wrote its first article disinterring the death of David Koschman as recently as February 28, 2011. If you'd asked me to guess, I'd have said about two years earlier.

Vanecko, a nephew of former mayor Richard M. Daley, now stands formally accused of causing Koschman's death by flattening him with a punch that ended (Koschman, five foot five, 125 pounds, fell; Venecko, six foot three, 230 pounds, made tracks) a drunken confrontation along Division Street near Dearborn early one April morning in 2004. Because it took a special prosecutor, Dan Webb, to bring the charge, the Chicago Police Department and Cook County State's Attorney's Office stand less formally but just as clearly accused of kowtowing to political influence and dereliction of duty.

Tuesday's Sun-Times recalls:

The stories—by reporters Tim Novak, Chris Fusco and Carol Marin, working with editor Paul Saltzman—exposed a botched investigation into Koschman's death. Starting with their first story, published Feb. 28, 2011, and over the next 10 months, the reporters:

◆ Brought to light for the first time that the mayor's nephew was the one who struck Koschman.

◆ Revealed that, as Koschman lay mortally injured in the street, Vanecko ran away.

◆ Turned up discrepancies between what witnesses said they told detectives and what the police wrote in their reports.

◆ Exposed what Toomin would later label a "missing-files syndrome." The state's attorney's office was unable to locate any records of its involvement in the case. And a police file showed up in August 2011—six months after the police closed the case. The missing file contained a report that said Vanecko was being "very aggressive" toward Koschman even before striking him—a statement that contradicted the official version the police provided.

Let me confess that early on I thought the Sun-Times was milking a bygone tragedy for more intrigue than was in it. That first story was plastered all over page one of the Sun-Times, but by its own admission it didn't answer its own questions. "Who killed David Koschman?" screamed page one. "At 3 a.m. on April 25, 2004, Koschman and his pals bumped into three men on Rush Street. Among them was Mayor Daley's nephew. One punch was thrown—in self-defense, police say—but they've never said who did it."

I was wrong. The privileged kid who gets into a mess his enablers clean up is a story that never gets old and never fails to infuriate. That's the story Novak went after and it's the one the Sun-Times ultimately told. Not after a cheesy crusade. After a relentless investigation.

The thing is, readers get impatient. Years ago, when Eric Zorn was writing column after column assailing the endless prosecution of Rolando Cruz and Alex Hernandez for a murder it was increasingly apparent they didn't commit, readers of Zorn came to me muttering, enough already. Zorn just wouldn't let up, and eventually Cruz and Hernandez were exonerated. Vanecko may never go to prison, and Koschman's own mother says she doesn't want him to. But a lot more of the truth is out there now than was known when Tim Novak—five years ago, actually—because of a nagging feeling that something wasn't right made a call to David Koschman's mother.

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