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Jul 06th
Home Sections MiscellaNEWS Fil-Am Father Testifies Anew in Palatine Massacre
Fil-Am Father Testifies Anew in Palatine Massacre PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Joseph G. Lariosa   
Wednesday, 02 September 2009 15:28


C HICAGO, Illinois (JGLi) – Filipino American businessman Manny Castro was following former Palatine, Illinois, Police Officer Ronald Conley inside Brown Chicken Restaurant in Palatine when Conley ordered him back to his car.

“As we entered, there was a walk-in cooler,” Conley testified Monday (Aug. 31) in Cook County Circuit Court in
Chicago, Illinois, “the door was partially open, and on the floor, there was a hand and a foot and blood protruding out of the door.”

Soon after, police cars and ambulances were rushing towards the restaurant. Castro and his wife waited for hours to learn whether their 16-year-old son was among the dead.

"They said they found seven bodies," Castro, 68, testified. "I asked them if one of them was Michael, and they said they didn't know yet."

It was the second time in more than one year that Mr. Castro testified in the trial in the 1993 murders of seven Brown’s Chicken restaurant employes, including two Filipino high-school students, one of them was his son, Michael, as jury trial against James Degorski got underway. The other Filipino-American victim in the massacre was Rico Solis, 17.

Degorski’s companion, Juan Luna, had already been convicted by a jury presided over by Judge Vincent Gaughan. Luna is now serving his life sentence at Stateville state prisons.

Degorski’s lawyer, Assistant Cook County Public Defender Mark Levitt, told the jurors that there was no evidence to link his client.

"Over the years, memories fade, stories change, but physical evidence does not lie," Levitt told the 12-person jury in his opening statement as Degorski listened.

But the prosecution tied Degorski to co-accused Juan Luna, who was placed at the crime scene thru
DNA. Degorski was Luna’s “best friend and sidekick.”

A ssistant
State’s Attorney Louis Longhitano said the murders were “never about money. This was about the thrill. They wanted to do something big. And they made a big splash in the blood of seven victims.”

Levitt focused on the thoroughness and expertise of investigators as they tried to link fingerprints,
DNA evidence and shoe prints to Paras.

"You will not hear one person step into this courtroom and tell you that any of [the physical evidence] came from Jim Degorski because he wasn't there," Levitt said.

But the prosecution stitched testimonies and circumstantial evidence that linked Degorski, 37, to the murders. These were based on the statement of Degorski to the police in 2002, corroborating the accounts of two women, describing the murder weapon that was never found.

Prosecution played a police video of the murder scene on the first day of the trial, showing grissly deaths of restaurant owners Lynn and Richard Ehlenfeldt and employes Guadalupe Maldonado, Thomas Mennes, Marcus Nellsen, Rico Solis and Michael Castro.

The trial is expected to last for two weeks.

Luna was sentenced to life in prison last May after a lone juror's vote spared him from the death penalty. Degorski, who has pleaded not guilty, also faces the death penalty if convicted.

The January 1993 massacre of seven people has been one of the
Chicago area's most-notorious unsolved crimes. Police believe that the slayings happened shortly after 9:10 p.m. on Jan. 8, when the killers forced at gunpoint the franchise co-owner Lynn W. Ehlenfeldt to open the safe that yielded from $1,800 to $1,900.

When Ehlenfeldt, 49, hesitated, Luna, who was no longer an employee of the fast-food chain at the time, admitted slitting her throat. Then, Luna and Degorski ordered her husband and co-owner, Richard E. Ehlenfeldt, 50, of Arlington Heights; and their five employees: Guadalupe Maldonado, 46, of Palatine, the cook; Michael C. Castro, 16, and Rico L. Solis, 17, both Palatine High School students working there part time; and Palatine residents Thomas Mennes, 32, and Marcus Nellsen, to get inside the walk-in freezer and they alternated and killing them with a single six-shooter .38 caliber revolver obtained by Degorski.

Castro’s father, Manny, is a native of San Miguel,
Bulacan, Philippines. Solis is a native of Makati City
Rico Solisaltalt

Rico Solis           Michael Castro   James Degorski

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 September 2009 18:45

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