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Special prosecutor ordered in controversial death case

CHICAGO – A Cook County judge Friday ordered the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the 2004 death of a man during an altercation with a nephew of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The family of 21-year-old David Koschman asked for a special prosecutor because it believes the initial investigation had police cover-ups. The family also said the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has political ties to Daley and is not fit to handle the case.

Koschman died days after he struck his head during a fight with Daley’s nephew, Richard Vanecko, outside a bar in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. No charges have been filed.

In his ruling, Judge Michael Toomin said evidence supports allegations of police misconduct in the initial investigation, including ignoring or falsely recording witness statements and labeling the victim as the aggressor. He also criticized the state’s attorney’s office.

“The tempest has not been calmed by the actions of the state’s attorney’s office. ... Quite simply we have a dead body,” he said. “This is not a who-done-it. We know who did it, yet no charges have been filed.”

While the judge said there was the appearance of institutional conflict because of police misconduct, he said he did not think State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has a political conflict.

When the judge read his conclusion, the victim’s mother, Nanci Koschman, broke into tears, turned and hugged her sister.

“I hope I finally get some justice for David,” she said afterward. “I’ll go see him this afternoon in the cemetery and tell him that.”

Alvarez has said she doesn’t think her office has a conflict of interest in the case.

After the judge’s ruling, Alvarez said she would not appeal the decision and will cooperate with whoever is named as special prosecutor.

“I continue to believe I have no legal conflict of interest that would have prevented me from handling the Koschman case,” Alvarez said, adding that she believes she has been the victim of unjust attacks by reporters.

Alvarez had asked state police to investigate after a series of articles in the Chicago Sun-Times raised questions about the Chicago Police Department’s investigation of Koschman’s death. The newspaper has reported the police department closed the case after deciding Vanecko acted in self-defense.

State police initially agreed to take on the case in March 2011, but backed out days later without explanation, the state’s attorney’s office said then.

The Sun-Times has reported that Chicago’s inspector general had been reviewing the police department’s investigation of Koschman’s death.

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