Getting closer to the truth in the death of David Koschman

New information has surfaced showing that the Daley family was on to the police investigation of one of its own early on — right before it ground to a halt. It’s now time to release everything else under lock and key.

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A high school senior photo of David Koschman.

Sun-Times Media

For 16 years, the official story has been that then-Mayor Richard M. Daley pulled no strings to protect a nephew from a police investigation into the death of a young man who died after being punched outside a bar.

Nor, according to the official story, did anybody else in the Daley clan.

This has always been hard to believe. Daley family intervention surely would seem to explain why the Chicago police did such a bang-up job — not once but twice — of botching the investigation so as not to lay a finger on the guy who threw the punch, Daley nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko.

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It took a Chicago Sun-Times investigation over many months to force yet a third look at the case, this time by a court-appointed special prosecutor. That investigation resulted in Vanecko finally pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of 21-year-old David Koschman. Vanecko served two months in jail, two months in home confinement and two years of probation.

Now comes new evidence that the Daleys were, in fact, on to the original police investigation early on — right before it mysteriously ground to a halt.

As reported by Tim Novak of the Sun-Times last week, cellphone records long kept secret reveal that one of the people Vanecko was with that night, Bridget Higgins McCarthy, called the mayor’s brother Michael just eight hours after the incident. That’s one of three phone calls she made to his home and law office between April 25, 2004, and April 30, 2004, as Koschman, of Mount Prospect, lay dying.

Additional evidence still under lock and key might tell even more of the story.

Cook County Judge Michael P. Toomin, who appointed the special prosecutor, has rejected previous requests to release all Koschman case files, saying doing so would violate grand jury secrecy. But the judge has said the city can release its own records — even if those records went to the grand jury — as long as it doesn’t identify the records as having been provided to grand jurors.

That gives Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration an opportunity to shed more light on what the Daley family knew — and when. The mayor’s Law Department should release cellphone records from Vanecko and several others involved. The Chicago Police Department should release all its records in the case.

What’s at stake is the right of Chicagoans to know how this city really worked under Daley. Because basic questions, such as these, remain unanswered:

  • When did Daley learn about the confrontation between his nephew and Koschman?
  • Who told him?
  • Did the mayor or his family discuss the case with the Police Department, which never even questioned Vanecko?

What’s also at stake is a mother’s right to know. David Koschman died on May 6, 2004. This past Sunday marked Nanci Koschman’s 16th Mother’s Day still looking for answers.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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