March 3, 2007 / 12:45 AM / 12 years ago

Judge clears three in deaths of Chicago club goers

Mourners place flowers in front of the E2 nightclub in Chicago, in this February 18, 2003 file photo. A judge on Friday cleared three men charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of 21 people who were crushed in a stampede out of a nightclub four years ago. REUTERS/Scott Olson

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A judge on Friday cleared three men charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of 21 people who were crushed in a stampede out of a nightclub four years ago.

The co-owner, manager and promoter of Chicago’s E2 nightclub were freed after Cook County Judge Dennis Porter ruled prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

A guard at E2 on February 17, 2003, testified that he used pepper spray to break up a fight on the dance floor, setting off a panic in the club where the 1,150 patrons on hand were five times the club’s legal capacity.

Many club goers rushed to a narrow staircase leading to the front entrance that became jammed with bodies. Twenty-one people were asphyxiated.

Prosecutors said the accused men should have been aware of dangers such as overcrowding, the lack of properly lit exits, and the illegal use of a chemical spray by security.

The other co-owner still faces trial on the charge, pending the outcome of an appeal on whether to allow evidence that he might have ignored a city inspector’s order to close the club.

The deadly incident raised questions about the city’s inspection process.

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