Once, it would have been enough for Nanci Koschman to know how her son, David Koschman, was killed and to hear the words, “I’m sorry.”
Then, the police told her it was her son’s own fault – standing 5-feet-4 and weighing 140 pounds – that he took a deadly punch to the face from a 6-feet-3, 230-pound former college football player who, it would turn out, was a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Back then, in 2004, they wouldn’t even tell her the name of the man. She remembers a detective telling her, “You’d be impressed.”
Now, Nanci Koschman knows it was Daley nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko who struck her son in a drunken confrontation in the early-morning hours of April 25, 2004, in the Rush Street area.
But that’s not enough. The Mount Prospect woman filed court papers Wednesday asking Chief Cook County Criminal Courts Judge Paul Biebel Jr. to appoint a special prosecutor – independent of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office – to determine whether Vanecko should be charged in her son’s death.
She wants that independent prosecutor to determine, too, whether anyone in the Chicago Police Department of the state’s attorney’s office wrongly tilted the scales of justice in Vanecko’s favor. If so, she wants them prosecuted, too.
She wants all of this for her son, she said Thursday,
“I just want David to rest,” Koschman, a widow who works in a medical office in the north suburbs, said at a news conference in Chicago at Northwestern University Law School where she appeared with the lawyers who filed the petition asking for a special prosecutor. “I want him to know that I did everything as his mother to take care of him.”
In court papers, her lawyers said they believe Vanecko would have been charged with a crime long ago if not for his Daley family connection.
Koschman echoed that Thursday.
“I feel that, had the roles been reversed – if David had punched R.J. Vanecko – I’d be visiting my son in prison this Christmas,” she said. “I think once they found out who was involved, it was easier to blame the young man from the suburbs than the big guy from downtown.”
David Koschman lived with his mother in Mount Prospect. The part-time college student died on May 6, 2004, of brain injuries that the Cook County medical examiner’s office said resulted from the punch he took on Division Street near Dearborn Street. Koschman was 21.
His death was listed by the police as an open and unsolved homicide until early this year. That’s when detectives with the Chicago Police Department, prompted by a Chicago Sun-Times request to examine their files on Koschman’s death, re-examined the case.
In the end, they closed it without seeking criminal charges or consulting with prosecutors. But, for the first time, they identified Vanecko, now 37, as the man who hit Koschman.
A Sun-Times investigation uncovered discrepancies with the police department’s findings in the case and revealed that Vanecko took off with a friend and hopped in a taxi after punching Koschman. It also revealed that prosecutors couldn’t find their files on the case, even though they were involved in deciding not to file criminal charges.
Koschman’s mother said she decided to ask for a special prosecutor as a result of the Sun-Times stories, which also reported that Richard Devine – a close friend of the Daley family who was state’s attorney at the time of Koschman’s death, as well as the boss of the current state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez – now represents one of Vanecko’s brothers in an unrelated civil lawsuit over the investment of city pension funds.
“Everybody knew everybody – except for David and me,” Nanci Koschman said. “We didn’t know anybody.
“So he died. And nobody cared. That’s the part that’s hard for me.”
She said she doesn’t think anyone intended to kill her son.
“I know, in my heart of hearts, R.J. Vanecko did not go out that night to kill my son,” she said. “Was my son drinking? Absolutely. He was out partying. I had always told him about Rush Street and the fun you can have down there.”
That still weighs on her.
“It was my fault, too, because I sent him down there to have fun,” Koschman said.
Koschman said she regularly visits her son’s grave and talks with him about how she wishes she could have done something to get the police to do more.
“I go there often to his gravesite and tell him I’m sorry that I didn’t fight for you,” she said. “But it was a difficult thing for me to do. I was fighting to stay alive myself most days.”
She remembers the weeks and months after her son’s death.
“An apology would have been nice,” she said of her thoughts back then, “even from the police department. But I never got anything.”
Now, she hopes Judge Biebel will agree to name a special prosecutor because “the case was not handled properly.
“Hopefully, something will be done so that the next person who gets hit by somebody somewhat semi-famous – their case will be handled differently,” she said.
David was her only child.
“He was my heart and soul,” Koschman said. “And I just need him to rest in peace so that, when I lay my head down at night, I don’t cry myself to sleep every night. This is why this is being done.”