A man sentenced to life in prison for killing seven people in the infamous Brown’s Chicken massacre in Palatine is seeking an evidentiary hearing, arguing that his statements to detectives were coerced and that the woman who implicated him and his high school friend talked to police only because she wanted to snare the $100,000 reward money offered in the case.
Although Cook County prosecutors did not present James Degorski’s short videotaped confession or any physical evidence linking him to the crime during his 2009 trial, they highlighted for jurors the testimony of their star witnesses, particularly Anne England, previously known as Anne Lockett.
England, who was on suicide watch at an area hospital at the time of the slayings, was never Degorski’s girlfriend as she claimed on the witness stand and was dating a man named Richard Bilik, according to the motion filed by Degorski’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean.
England “was a troubled woman, prone to dishonesty, who planned to implicate someone in the Brown’s Chicken murder to take advantage of the handsome reward money,” the motion says.
England reached out to investigators in 2002 — nearly 10 years after the Jan. 8, 1993, slaying of the seven fast food workers — and told them that Degorski and his friend, Juan Luna, had bragged to her about killing the victims and how they wanted to do “something big.”
But jurors never heard that England had questioned Bilik about whether he, too, was involved in the murders and that he was questioned by police three separate times, according to the motion, which was filed last month.
None of the 200 fingerprints collected from the crime scene could be tied to Degorski, now 44. His statements to police are “unreliable” because his “confession was a product of unconstitutional police conduct. And he was denied “effective assistance of counsel” because his attorney prevented him from taking the stand, the motion argues.
When Judge Vincent Gaughan asked if he wanted to testify at trial, Degorski said, “There’s no need. No.”
England received half the $100,000 reward money in 2010. She shared the proceeds with her friend Melissa Ippach, formerly Melissa Oberle, who is credited with coaxing her to contact authorities and made the initial call to police.
Killed in the infamous mass murder were Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt, the couple who operated the Brown’s Chicken, and their employees, Guadalupe Maldonado, Thomas Mennes, Marcus Nellsen, Rico L. Solis and Michael C. Castro.
Luna was convicted in 2007 and is also serving a life sentence.