Daley nephew Vanecko pleads guilty in Koschman death - KMSP-TV

Daley nephew Vanecko pleads guilty in Koschman death

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Richard J. "RJ" Vanecko, 39. Richard J. "RJ" Vanecko, 39.
David Koschman, 21. David Koschman, 21.
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Richard "RJ" Vanecko, the nephew of former Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, pleaded guilty involuntary manslaughter on Friday, in the death of David Koschman in 2004.

Vanecko, 39, will serve 60 days behind bars at the McHenry County Jail, remain confined to his home with electronic monitoring for 60 days after that and will be on probation for 30 months. He also has to pay the victim's mother Nanci Koschman $20,000 for expenses, as well as apologize to her in court.

Those terms we laid out in a plea deal approved by McHenry County Circuit Court Judge Maureen P. McIntyre, who also handed down his sentence.

On April 25, 2004, then 28-year-old Vanecko punched 21-year-old Koschman in a drunken altercation in the Rush Street nightlife area. The older man took off in a cab and was later identified by a friend who had been with him.

The blow caused Koschman to strike the pavement on Division near Dearborn when he hit the ground. He never woke up. The Mount Prospect man was hospitalized for 11 days leading up to his death. Police and prosecutors initially decided not to file any charges in Koschman's death.

The victim's mother was present at Friday's hearing in Rolling Meadows, but had her back turned to Vanecko when he walked in.

The meeting was originally scheduled for the judge to consider pre-trial motions with attorneys, regarding the high-profile case set to begin on Feb. 18. Vanecko's team had previously gotten court permission for the 39-year-old Costa Mesa, Calif. resident to skip the hearing altogether.

Nanci Koschman was sitting with her sister Sue Pazderski and lawyers Locke Bowman and G. Flint Taylor, who successfully argued for a special prosecutor to be appointed to pursue a criminal case against Vanecko.

The case had remained in limbo until a series of reports in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2011 prompted the court-ordered appointment of former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb as a special prosecutor.

Webb took it to a grand jury, which indicted Vanecko in December 2012, finding that the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Vanecko had used "physical force and, without lawful justification, recklessly performed acts which were likely to cause death or great bodily harm" to the 5-foot-5, 125-pound Koschman.

Webb also investigated the conduct of the police and the Cook County state's attorney's office in the case — a probe that ended last fall with his announcement that he would not be bringing charges against anyone other than Vanecko.

Vanecko's indictment had marked a stunning swing in a case that current and former police officials and prosecutors had insisted didn't merit criminal prosecution.

"There's no basis for criminal charges," then-police Supt. Phil Cline said in May 2004.

The police reinvestigated in early 2011, prompted by a request from Sun-Times reporters to review the case file. Again, they declined to seek charges. They said Vanecko — who jumped in a cab with a friend after the incident and never spoke with investigators — acted in self-defense.

"Absent evidence that would enable us to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, there is not a good-faith basis to bring charges," Sally Daly, Alvarez's press secretary, said then.

But Cook County Circuit Judge Michael P. Toomin, hearing Nanci Koschman's didn't buy it.

"The system has failed" Koschman, Toomin said in April 2012 when he granted the request by Nanci Koschman for a special prosecutor.

The judge ripped "the fiction of self-defense" that he said was "conjured up by police and prosecutors," and he questioned why Vanecko wasn't charged.

"He's identified as the killer — make no mistake about it," the judge said then. "This is not a whodunit . . . When you have a dead body, someone's going to jail. Not in this case."

Weeks later, when he appointed Webb, he made clear he wanted him to look beyond Vanecko, to also "investigate whether criminal charges should be brought against any person in connection with the homicide of David Koschman . . . and whether . . . employees of the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County state's attorney's office acted intentionally to suppress and conceal evidence, furnish false evidence and generally impede the investigation."

The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report.

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