is a convicted United States mass murderer, who was
found guilty of killing seven people in the Brown's
Chicken massacre in Palatine, Illinois on January 8,
Luna killed the two owners and five
employees, then left their bodies in the store's freezer.
After no arrests had been made in the case for nine
years, Luna and James Degorski, his charged accomplice,
were implicated by Degorski's former girlfriend.
Luna went to trial in Cook County
Criminal Court in late April 2007, with most of the case
against him resting on evidence from DNA found on
partially-eaten pieces of chicken found at the crime
scene (some of which could not be linked to Luna through
DNA technology at the time of the crime, but can with
more sophisticated means now) and a videotaped
confession by Luna.
On May 10, 2007, Luna was found
guilty on all seven counts. On May 18, 2007, a jury
decided against the death penalty for Luna. This means
Luna will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Eleven of the jurors who convicted Juan Luna of the 1993 Brown’s
Chicken massacre voted to sentence him to death Thursday, but his life
was spared because of a lone holdout.
The 12-member jury spent just two hours deliberating, then voted
overwhelmingly for the death penalty, according to Cook County
prosecutors, defense attorneys and jurors who spoke to reporters after
Jurors said the holdout was the same woman who initially balked
before the panel voted unanimously last week to convict Luna of
murdering seven workers at the Palatine fast-food restaurant during a
robbery. They declined to identify her.
“We didn’t gang up on her because that’s not right,” said juror Tim
Beltran, 22, of Westchester. “You don’t want to force her into anything.”
Under Illinois law, a death sentence can be imposed only by a
unanimous jury vote. The split vote left the jury to recommend a life
sentence for Luna, 33.
Luna gets life in prison
By Todd Shields - Palatine-Countryside.com
May 17, 2007
Convicted mass murderer Juan Luna will serve life
in prison without parole for killing seven workers at the Palatine
Brown's Chicken, a jury decided Thursday.
One person decided Luna's fate when she would not
vote with 11 other jurors in favor of the death penalty. The jury
deliberated for two hours before reaching its decision at 4:20 p.m.
As the decision was read to a packed courtroom, the
reception was silent. Eight Cook County sheriff's deputies lined the
aisles, ensuring decorum and security.
Once the words appeared to sink in, Juan Luna turned
to defense attorney Stephen Richards, and the emotionally spent men bear-hugged
one another for several seconds. Richards defended his client through
long, crucial parts of the trial.
Lead defense attorney Clarence Burch bowed his head
and whispered an apparent prayer.
The decision pleased both Luna's family and several
victims' family members who opposed the death penalty.
"I don't think anyone should ever die including my
brother," said Jorge Luna as he was leaving courtroom No. 500.
Other victims' family members felt strongly opposite.
Diane Clayton, mother of victim Marcus Nellsen, said
the life sentence was unjust.
"Not when seven people were brutally killed. This
cannot be justice. My son deserved better than this. The other six
victims deserved better than this," she said through tears as she sat in
her wheelchair and spoke to reporters in the lobby of the Criminal
Luna, 33, was convicted May 10 of the 1993 murders of
Michael Castro, 16; Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50; Lynn Ehlenfeldt, 49;
Guadalupe Maldonado, 47; Thomas Mennes, 32; Marcus Nellsen, 31; and Rico
Solis, 17. The Ehlenfeldts of Arlington Heights owned the Brown's
Clayton, a Schaumburg resident, said she will
continue to honor her son's memory by thinking about him every day.
"You have to go on, but you never forget," Clayton
said. "I realize the death penalty would never bring my son back."
Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt's three daughters
received the jury's decision with blank expressions.
Outside the courtroom, Jennifer Ehlenfeldt Shilling
said she respected the jury's decision, but added that Luna's friends
and relatives should stop insisting he should be freed.
"It's an insult to us that he and his family
proclaimed his innocence," she said. "Until they admit Juan Luna's guilt,
their prayers are of little comfort."
"We hope both Juan Luna and his family will accept
his guilt and his role in these horrible crimes and that they accept
responsibility for his actions," she said.
Shilling, of La Crosse, Wis., who is a Democratic
state representative, said she and her family were relieved that the
trial had ended so they can get back to living normal lives.
"We're exhausted, we're spent," she said.
Jury couldn't force a death
By Kimberly Fornek - Palatine-Countryside.com
May 17, 2007
The jury who convicted Juan Luna of murder was a
close, cohesive group, according to one juror who spoke to the press
Thursday after sentencing Luna to life in prison without parole.
But that sentence was not the one they wanted to
impose. In fact, all but one juror of the 12-person jury voted to
sentence Luna to death. Without a unanimous vote, however, the death
penalty could not be imposed.
"Everybody has a decision and you can't force anybody,"
juror John Polishak said. "They have to live with that decision for the
rest of their lives." He acknowledged "it was a little frustrating" that
the sentence reflected only one person's opinion, but the majority did
not push anyone to change their vote, he said.
"We discussed the pros and cons," said Polishak, a
Chicago plumber. "We took a few (votes)," he said, but the jurors did
not bother with secret ballots. "We were such a close group, everything
was discussed, everything was in the open. We never pressured anybody."
Polishak said the jurors "weren't surprised" that one
juror opposed the death sentence for Luna, because of "prior
The jury voted unanimously last week to convict Luna
on seven counts of first-degree murder in the Jan. 8, 1993, slayings at
the Palatine Brown's Chicken.
"We came by that decision by the facts and the
evidence and the law," Polishak said. "It wasn't easy."
The DNA found on pieces of a chicken dinner that was
left in the trash the night of the murders and a palm print that experts
said matched Luna's, as well as Luna's videotaped confession from 2002,
were "for me and most of the jurors major" evidence that caused them to
convict Luna. "The DNA was key. That placed Juan Luna at Brown's Chicken
Despite criticism of the way key pieces of evidence
were handled, specifically portions of a chicken dinner the prosecution
claimed Luna ate before the murder spree began, Polishak said the jury
viewed the evidence as "solid."
The jurors did not consider testimony from star
witnesses Anne Lockett and Eileen Bakalla as important as the DNA
evidence, because the jury questioned their accuracy. "(They were) doing
too many drugs," Polishak said.
He said the jurors started the trial with the premise
"Juan Luna was innocent and the state had to prove him guilty." They put
themselves in Luna's place and knew they would want a jury who would be
fair and open-minded.
"None of us wanted to be on this jury, but we did get
picked," Polishak said. Over the weeks of the trial, the jurors "became
like a family." Before leaving the courthouse for the last time,
Polishak said, "We exchanged e-mails, the people that wanted to. We
never forced anything on anybody."
Polishak started his post-sentencing press conference
by apologizing for being emotional.
"It has been hard. ... I haven't slept for the past
two days. None of us have been sleeping for weeks. We took a lot of time
Jurors with families have missed their spouses and
children, he said.
Still, he acknowledged, "It was a great learning
experience. It taught me a lot of patience, which I don't have a lot
of." But he said, "I would never want to do it again."
Polishak expects he and the other jurors "are
definitely going to be following (alleged accomplice James) Degorski's
Taped confession reveals chilling
By Todd Shields -
April 25, 2007
Similar to a movie script, the violence at a Palatine
restaurant on a cold January night in 1993 commenced with an armed
stickup-man yelling, "Everybody down on the floor. This is a holdup!"
But this was no scripted movie.
Approximately 45 minutes later, the lights were
cut, the safe robbed, two men were headed for the getaway car on
foot through snow and seven employees of Brown's Chicken & Pasta
were dead — six shot to death and one whose throat was cut.
Twelve jurors heard those chilling details Wednesday
on the taped confession of accused killer and armed robber Juan Luna,
33, in the alleged Jan. 8, 1993 crime.
He and Fremd High School friend James Degorski, 34,
are the accused, charged with first degree murder and armed robbery upon
their May 2002 arrests. Luna's trial started April 13 and Degorski's is
unscheduled. Both men, former Hoffman Estates residents, have pleaded
not guilty and face the death penalty if found guilty.
During Luna's 43 minute confession, taped May 17,
2002 at the Hoffman Estates Police Department, he told two detectives
and a felony supervisor for the Cook County State's Attorney that he and
Degorski entered the restaurant at Northwest Highway and Smith minutes
after the 9 p.m. closing. Luna then ordered a four-piece chicken dinner.
"I had worked there and knew there were no alarms,"
Luna said, further explaining he knew about the backroom safe, when more
money might in the safe, no guards and when less customers would be
Luna also explained he opened the entrance door with
a sweater draped over his hand to avoid leaving fingerprints.
Inside, both men donned latex gloves under the table
booth and upon Degorski's order — Let's do it" — walked to the front
counter and cash registers where Degorski announced the crime.
Walking to the back of the restaurant with a coerced
employee, Luna said he saw another worker, later identified as Tom
Mennes, 32, jump over the counter trying to escape when Degorski shot
him in the back.
Luna said Mennes shouted, "Ow, I've been shot," and
Degorski dragged him into a westside walk-in freezer in the building.
He then heard Degorski telling another person to "Get
up." More shots were fired, and Degorski pulled owner Richard
Ehlenfeldt, 50, alongside Mennes, still dressed in a white kitchen
apron, sprawled on the floor next to a storage shelf, Luna said. Visual
information was shown to jurors early in the trial, filmed by Palatine
police the day after the incident.
At the restaurant's east end, Luna was watching over
four workers and Ehlenfeldt's wife, Lynn, 49, all facing downward on the
floor near another walk-in cooler.
"My job was to make sure no one ran," Luna said on
the tape, earlier saying Degorski was the designated "aggressor" in the
Degorski reloaded the silver .38-caliber revolver and
ordered three people into the freezer.
Suddenly, Luna recalled, employee Marcus Nellsen ran
for a rear door behind Luna, who demonstrated for investigators how he
took a karate stance and pushed Nellsen back toward Degorski.
"Jim hit him in the head with the gun in his hand.
(Nellsen) was drowsy and his feet were wobbly. We put him in the
freezer," Luna said.
At that point, he described the scene as getting "all
wild and crazy." Armed with a knife, Luna told Lynn Ehlenfeldt to open
the two-door safe.
"She was very scared. Hands trembling. She stuck the
key in the safe and opened it. I said to turn around and I cut her
throat," Luna said, again re-enacting the scene by drawing a pen across
his throat for the investigators.
"I guess I just got caught up in it and cut her
throat," he said.
"She was laying on the floor. She started gargling
and ran out of breath," he said, at which point Luna, up to then usually
poised and spontaneous, bowed his head in the white-cinder block room,
breathed in heavily and ran his hand up through his hair several times.
Degorski dragged Ehlenfeldt into the east freezer and
herded the four remaining employees in and told Luna to fire a warning
shot into the room.
"They were yelling, 'Don't shoot us. Please, don't
shoot us.' Their hands were shaking," Luna said.
After mopping up the floor for blood, Degorski
returned to the freezer, Luna explained, and his friend opened the
"I heard rapid shots. A pause, then bam, bam, bam
again," Luna said, adding Degorski kicked the bodies to make sure they
He then shut off the circuit breaker lights, locked
the doors and he and Degorski left.
"I was so shook up and scared. (Degorski) drove my
car to Carpentersville," he said.
At the tape's conclusion, assistant Cook County
State's Attorney Darren O'Brien asked Luna how he felt. "Well, I know I
can't change time no more, and I can't bring people back. I feel so sad,
and I'm so sorry," Luna said, his voice cracking.
'I owed it to the families'
By Todd Shields - Palatine-Countryside.com
April 24, 2007
The former girlfriend of accused killer James
Degorski said he telephoned while she was under suicide watch in a
psychiatric hospital in 1993 and told her to view the television
news that night.
"I saw the Brown's Chicken murders on TV. Later, my
Mom brought me news articles to the hospital about the murders. I read
them and later threw them out," Anne Lockett said Tuesday, eight days
into the murder trial of Degorski, 34, and Juan Luna, 33, in Chicago.
By late 2001, Lockett, then a college student at
Eastern Illinois University, decided to tell three friends what she knew
that led to the men's arrest in May 2002.
Luna and Degorski are accused of killing seven
employees of a Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant on Jan. 8, 1993,
setting Palatine police and other law agencies on a nine-year national
"I began to feel bad, but I also had a fear of being
killed," said Lockett, referring to possible retribution from her former
Fremd High School classmates Degorski and Luna.
"The guilt I had in knowing who had done these things
outweighed my fear, but I owed it to the families," Lockett said.
Lockett testified that Jan. 7, a day before the
murders, she entered the mental hospital for trying to kill herself with
an overdose of NyQuil, a cold medication.
She said she was released on Jan. 25, and days later,
she met Luna and Degorski in Degorski's basement bedroom in Hoffman
Estates. There, they told Lockett, then 17 years old, of wearing old
clothes and shoes they later threw out, of filling their pockets with
bullets for a silver .38-caliber revolver and wedging the restaurant
door shut with an object to prevent employees from escaping.
The men also "walked funny" to the restaurant through
the snow to avoid footprint identification, she said, and they put on
rubber latex gloves in the bathroom.
Lockett also said Degorski grew angry with his friend
for ordering chicken that may have left greasy fingerprints.
A dime-size print below the little finger lifted from
a Brown's napkin at the crime scene was Luna's, forensic expert John
Onstwedder III testified April 19.
The men told her they both shot the victims, Lockett
testified, and Luna described how he slit the throat of Lynn Ehlenfeldt,
49, of Arlington Heights.
Ehlenfeldt owned the eatery at Northwest Highway and
Smith Street with her husband, Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50, who was found
with three gunshot wounds to the head and face.
In retelling their alleged robbery and murder,
Lockett said, "Juan was physically into it -- animated. Jim just sat on
his bed, telling me the story."
Lockett also said the pair later threw the revolver
into the Fox River either in Carpentersville or Algonquin.
"Jim also said, 'If you tell anyone, I will kill you,'"
she told the court.
In cross-examining Lockett, 31, defense attorney
Clarence Burch asked her about their relationship before the alleged
"He was very abusive, but he never threatened to kill
me before Brown's Chicken (murders)," she said.
An admitted drug and alcohol user since her teens,
Lockett said she often smoked marijuana and drank alcohol with Degorski
The friends' drug abuse grew to cocaine, PCP and LSD,
she said, adding she dated Degorski from 1992 to 1994 after they met
while students at Fremd High School in Palatine.
Burch questioned Lockett on memory loss due to her
drug and alcohol abuse. She said complete loss occurred occasionally
during "blackouts" from drinking alcohol.
Repeatedly, she told Burch she never planned on
telling anyone of the crimes.
"I had my life threatened," she said. "He killed
seven, why not eight?"
In testimony for the prosecution April 17, Eileen
Bakalla, another friend of Degorski and Luna, said on the night of the
murders she punched out from her job at Jake's Pizza in Streamwood and
drove to Carpentersville to meet both men at a Jewel parking lot. They
then drove in Bakalla's vehicle to her town house where they smoked
marijuana, she said.
Bakalla testified that Luna and Degorski told her
they had robbed Brown's Chicken, and she saw a canvas bag containing
Murder Trial to Begin in Illinois,
14 Years After 7 Died
By Libby Sanders - The New York Times
April 13, 2007
For years after the 1993 robbery and killing of seven
people at a fast-food restaurant about 30 miles northwest of here,
thousands of leads failed to bring investigators the break needed to
solve one of the most gruesome crimes in Illinois history.
It was not until 2002 that
the authorities announced they had arrested two
men in the infamous Brown’s Chicken Massacre, so
called because the victims were shot or stabbed
and left inside two walk-in refrigerators at
Brown’s Chicken and Pasta restaurant in the
quiet, middle-class village of Palatine.
On Friday, more than 14 years
after the killings, opening statements are
expected at the trial of one of the accused,
Juan A. Luna Jr., in Cook County Criminal Court
Those 14 years have tested
the patience of the victims’ families, of
investigators and of Palatine’s residents.
“Everybody feels like they
want it to be over,” said Mayor Rita Mullins,
who was finishing her first term when the
slayings occurred. “They probably will never
find the answer to ‘why’ — why did this happen,
why did it happen in Palatine — but the answer
will be as to ‘who.’”
During all the years the case
was unsolved, Ms. Mullins said, “people did look
from side to side, wondering who could have done
this. It was the fear of the unknown.”
Mr. Luna was 18 on Jan. 8,
1993, when, prosecutors say, he and 20-year-old
James Degorski walked into Brown’s around 9
p.m., intending to rob it after it closed. The
two shared a chicken dinner, then slipped on
latex gloves and herded the couple who owned
Brown’s and five employees to the rear of the
restaurant, then into the two refrigeration
units, the authorities say. Less than $2,000 was
taken, they say.
Relatives notified the police
when employees failed to arrive home on time.
Five victims were found in one walk-in cooler at
the restaurant; two were in another. Some had
been shot several times; the throat of one was
Mr. Luna, who had worked at
the restaurant until a few months before the
slayings, was one of 300 current and former
employees interviewed and cleared not long after
But in 2002, a former
girlfriend of Mr. Degorski came forward with
details of the crime that investigators have
said only someone linked directly to it could
have known. The woman told investigators she
waited nine years because Mr. Degorski had
threatened to kill her if she revealed what he
told her about that night.
Mr. Degorski and Mr. Luna
were arrested in May 2002. Both pleaded not
guilty; if convicted, however, they could face
the death penalty. Both have been held without
bail in Cook County Jail. Mr. Degorski will be
tried after Mr. Luna.
Among the evidence
prosecutors are expected to present at Mr.
Luna’s trial is a videotaped confession he gave
shortly after his arrest, a confession that he
has since claimed was coerced. They are also
likely to present DNA tests that they say link
the remains of the suspects’ partly eaten
chicken dinner, retrieved from a trash can, to
saliva samples gotten from the men a few weeks
before their arrests.
Defense lawyers have
indicated they may try to discredit the DNA
analysis by arguing that the test results were
not conclusive and that the chicken dinner was
Judge Vincent M. Gaughan has
barred lawyers from speaking to the news media
outside the courtroom. Neither Mr. Luna’s lead
lawyer, Clarence L. Burch, nor the Cook County
state’s attorney, Richard A. Devine, who is
prosecuting the case himself, would grant an
interview for this article.
A confession and forensic
evidence often help prosecutors in cases in
which the crime occurred many years earlier,
said Leonard L. Cavise, a professor of criminal
law at DePaul University College of Law, so Mr.
Luna’s statement and the DNA test results could
present major hurdles for his legal team.
The Brown’s Chicken franchise
never reopened, and the building was torn down
in 2001. There was talk for a time of erecting a
memorial to the victims, but the idea faded, and
now the corner is a parking lot for a Eurofresh
Some victims’ families have
said they are grateful that the case is nearing
completion, however painful it is to recall the
details after so many years. Many have requested
privacy as the trial begins, declining to speak
Jennifer Shilling, a daughter
of the restaurant’s owners, Richard and Lynn
Ehlenfeldt, said she and her two sisters planned
to attend the trial.
“My sisters and I, as well as
the families of our mother and father, have
patiently waited for this trial and justice for
more than 14 years,” Ms. Shilling, a Wisconsin
state representative from La Crosse, said in a
statement. “All of us expect that it will be an
emotional and painful experience as we again
relive the grief and anguish all of us have