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EDITORIAL: Did he fall to his death 11 years ago — or was he strangled?

Dean Goldufsky (center) with his family. | Provided photo

It’s time for a second look.

Eleven years ago, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office declined to criminally prosecute a man named Joseph Cunningham, though the county medical examiner’s office ruled that a man who died at Cunningham’s home had been strangled.

But now Cunningham has been arrested in Florida for a similar crime — domestic battery by strangulation. And the handling of the Chicago case, which always had a bad smell about it, looks even more questionable.

From the very start, Chicago police have insisted that Dean Goldufsky’s death was a homicide. Detectives are of the opinion that Cunningham strangled Goldufsky during an evening of drinking.

State’s attorney Kim Foxx should reopen the case. Here’s why:

At about 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2008, paramedics and police found Goldufsky at the bottom of the stairs in Cunningham’s Northwest Side home, where Cunningham lived on the second floor.

Dr. J. Lawrence Cogan of the medical examiner’s office found injuries to Goldufsky’s larynx and a fractured bone in his throat. Cogan also noted injuries to Goldufsky’s head, chest and extremities and a separated cervical disc.

He wrote: “The cause of death is strangulation.”

A tenant living downstairs in Cunningham’s home told police her ceiling fan was shaking at about 6 p.m. and she heard “loud banging and things dropping.” Cunningham also had “numerous fresh scratches” on his face and neck, according to the police.

The police arrested Cunningham twice for the first-degree murder of Goldufsky, who worked for a moving company owned by Cunningham’s brother, a Chicago Fire Department lieutenant.

But both times, the state’s attorney’s office declined to prosecute, saying the evidence was insufficient.

Now Cunningham stands charged in a second case of alleged strangulation. He was arrested on Feb. 19 in Melbourne, Florida, for allegedly assaulting a woman outside a restaurant. The woman, a nurse who worked with Cunningham and let him stay at her apartment, told the Chicago Sun-Times, “He put me against a wall and started strangling me.”

According to a police report, as Tim Novak reported in Sunday’s Sun-Times, another customer at the restaurant witnessed Cunningham placing “both hands on the victim’s neck/throat in an attempt to strangle her.”

Joseph Cunningham. | Brevard County, Florida, sheriff’s office
Joseph Cunningham. | Brevard County, Florida, sheriff’s office

Cunningham has been permitted to return to Chicago on electronic monitoring and has a right to presumption of innocence in the Florida case.

But given the similarity of the allegations, authorities here should revisit the Chicago case.

One reason the state’s attorney’s office declined to prosecute 11 years ago was that the defense brought in its own pathologist, who concluded Goldufsky had died from falling down the stairs.

But the defense pathologist never examined Goldufsky’s larynx.

Cogan, the now-retired medical examiner’s pathologist, said he based his finding of strangulation partly on the injuries to Goldufsky’s larynx, which included a fractured bone that typically breaks during strangulation.

Also, Cunningham’s roommate at the time, Katherine Dillon, told the police that she inadvertently scratched Cunningham’s face when she tried to get him to stop performing CPR on Goldufsky once paramedics arrived.

But crime lab tests, according to the police, turned up DNA in Goldufsky’s fingernail clippings that most likely came from Cunningham.

The passage of 11 years won’t make it easy to re-investigate the Chicago case. But Sharon Kvistad, Goldufsky’s mother, told us Tuesday that the family hopes authorities will do so.

Earlier, a spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx told us, “We are open to review any new or additional information provided by law enforcement.”

A second case of alleged strangulation sounds a lot like “additional information” to us.

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