CHICAGO (JGL) – “I like to thank the prison guard who smashed the face of that sick (James) Degorski. He was lucky I was not the prison guard that day. Otherwise, I will pulverize his ass to hell.”
Filipino American Manny Castro told this reporter in an email as he reacted to news of a federal jury award Saturday to Degorski for nearly a half-million dollars in his civil rights lawsuit against a former Cook County Jail guard accused of beating Degorski in 2002.
Degorski was one of the two men serving a life-sentence for the 1993 massacre of seven workers at a Brown’s Chicken restaurant in Chicago’s suburban Palatine. One of the slain workers was Manny Castro’s son, Michael C. Castro, who was 16 years old at that time.
Another slain worker was Michael Castro’s fellow Filipino American school mate, Rico L. Solis, 17, at Palatine High School, both of them working at Brown Chicken’s restaurant as part-time.
Manny Castro, 72, a native of Bulacan province in the Philippines, said, “Now that he (Degorski) will get money for his public defenders during trial, (I will) probably file a (law)suit against this guy to pay any restitutions for the funeral expenses of the seven human beings he murdered. And pain and sufferings he has given us.”
His wife, Epifania Castro, reacted with shock when reached by the Chicago Tribune on Degorski’s victory in court,” saying, “Are you kidding me? He’s a convicted killer to me, it’s like he was paid to kill. That’s how I feel. He got rewarded and he’s a killer.”
Degorski was convicted of the mass murders in 2009 while his accomplice, Juan Luna, was convicted in 2007.
CASTRO DID NOT GET ANY CIVIL DAMAGES
Castro told this reporter in 2011 he did not get any civil damages from the owners of the fast food chain, Brown Chicken’s restaurant, because it was proven in court that the owners were not negligent – as the husband-and-wife restaurant owners Richard Ehlenfeldt and his wife, Lynn, were among those who were murdered along with his son.
A federal court jury on Friday (March 7) awarded Degorski $451,000 in connection with Degorski’s alleged beating by Cook County Sheriff’s deputy, Thomas Wilson, whose blows left Degorski with facial fractures that required surgery to insert two metal plates in his face.
Wilson was placed on unpaid leave and eventually fired in 2004 by the Cook County Sheriff’s Merit Board.
Wilson told a Cook County circuit judge in Chicago that he acted in self-defense. Wilson was acquitted in 2003 of aggravated battery and official misconduct charges.
In 2004, Degorski sued Wilson, another correctional officer, and former Sheriff Michael Sheahan, for using excessive force and others for failing to stop his beating.
While Degorski’s lawsuit was pending, his lawyer died. Jennifer Bonjean, a lawyer based in Brooklyn, New York, took up Degorski’s civil case, when “not many people” wanted to help Degorski prosecute the civil rights case.
LAWYER HANDLED CIVIL RIGHTS CASE DESPITE CLIENT’S MASS MURDER CONVICTION
Bonjean told the Tribune when Degorski asked her legal help, he professed innocence in the mass murder. She said Degorski’s murder conviction did not prevent her from handling the case, saying, “If you are a true civil rights lawyer, this is a dream case.”
Wilson’s lawyer, John Winters, Jr., said, “Had the jury learned that Degorski was a convicted (mass) murderer (not just a murderer), Degorski’s credibility might have been questioned.”
The $451,000 award to Degorski will come from $225,000 in compensatory damages from Cook County while the $226,000 in punitive damages will come from Wilson.
The Illinois Department of Corrections may get part of Degorski’s money for his upkeep while victims’ families may also file a suit for wrongful death against Degorski to receive a share.
Wilson admitted hitting Degorski twice but Degorski at trial described many more blows.
The massacre occurred on January 8, 1993, when Degorski and Luna robbed the Brown’s Chicken restaurant and then proceeded to murder seven employees. The case remained unsolved for nearly nine years, until one of the assailants was implicated by his girlfriend in 2002.
Police used DNA samples from the murder scene to match one of the suspects, Juan Luna. Luna was put on trial in 2007, found guilty for seven counts of murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. James Degorski, the other assailant, was found guilty in 2009 on all seven counts of murder, and also sentenced to life imprisonment.
The victims included the Brown Chicken owners, Richard E. Ehlenfeldt, 50, and his wife, Lynn W. Ehlenfeldt, 49, of Arlington Heights, Illinois. Also killed were five employees: Guadalupe Maldonado, 46, of Palatine, via Mexico, 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, 31.