CHICAGO (Reuters) - Eight years after he allegedly threw a punch that led to the death of a suburban Chicago man, Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, nephew of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and grandson of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, was indicted on Monday on a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
A grand jury found that Vanecko “recklessly performed acts which were likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another,” according to the indictment.
The case has been controversial in the country’s third-largest city because of an investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper into why Vanecko had never before been charged in the case. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office declined to charge Vanecko while his uncle was mayor, according to court documents.
Cook County Circuit Judge Michael P. Toomin appointed former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb as a special prosecutor last April to lead a new investigation into the 2004 death of 21-year-old David Koschman.
Neither Webb nor Terrence Gillespie, an attorney for Vanecko, could immediately be reached for comment. Vanecko lives in California.
The incident took place in the “Rush Street” area, a popular spot for night life, in April of 2004. Koschman, described in court documents as 5 feet 5 inches tall and 140 pounds, was out drinking with friends, according to court documents.
The group ran into a group that included Vanecko, and there was an argument, according to court documents.
Vanecko, 6 feet 3 inches tall and 230 pounds, punched Koschman, who fell backwards and hit his head on the pavement and died about two weeks later, according to Toomin’s opinion appointing a special prosecutor.
Police declined to seek charges, either in 2004 or later when the case was reopened in 2011, deciding Vanecko had acted in self-defense, according to court documents. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office found “no good-faith basis” to bring charges, according to the documents.
Koschman’s family called for a special prosecutor, saying it was possible authorities may have been led by favoritism to obstruct the investigation.
In his opinion, Judge Toomin noted there was no evidence Koschman employed any physical force against Vanecko, and only conflicting evidence that he was the verbal aggressor. There also was no evidence that the much smaller Koschman posed any danger to Vanecko, the judge said. Police did not interview Vanecko, Toomin noted.
“Under these circumstances, the public could well conclude that the entire claim of self-defense came not from Vanecko, but, rather, was conjured up in the minds of law enforcement,” Toomin wrote.
Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune