This is a heart-wrenching story of how a mother of a 21-year-old son learned late one night he had been critically injured in a street fight while bar-hopping in downtown Chicago in April, 2004. Days later, she had to make an agonizing decision to remove life support for her only son because of a severe brain injury he sustained when his head struck the street and complications from emergency heart surgery performed on him. Nancy Koschman's son David was 5'5" and weighed only 140 pounds. Chicago police detectives told her nothing about what had happened to her son that fateful night. She learned for the first time while watching a TV news broadcast that Mayor Richard Daley's nephew had been implicated in her son's death. The Sun-Times recounts how Nancy learned Mayor Daley's nephew was involved and other circumstances surrounding his death:
She didn’t know anything about the group her son and his friends ran into until she caught the news on TV the night of May 20, 2004. The TV report said a nephew of Mayor Daley — Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko — was part of the group David had bumped into. Vanecko had been in legal trouble before — he’d pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapons charge stemming from a 1992 brawl at an underage-drinking party thrown by Daley’s son, Patrick Daley, in Grand Beach, Mich. Other news outlets quickly picked up the story. Suddenly, David Koschman’s little-known death was thrust into the spotlight.When her brother-in-law and an attorney arranged for a meeting with Chicago police detectives, Nancy was dumbfounded when they told her that her son had started the fight and it was his fault he got hurt.
Nanci Koschman left her house for the weekend, getting away from the reporters camped outside her home.
“When all the articles hit, I didn’t understand it was a police investigation, I guess,” Koschman says of how she viewed things then. “I’ve never been involved in anything like this before. All my friends are trying to help me just get through each day.”
Newspaper stories over the following week quoted authorities saying her son had been “pushed or punched” during an altercation with three other men but that no charges would be filed.
Frustrated, Koschman asked a lawyer — the sister of a friend — to set up a meeting with the police.
“After all of the news broke . . . I feel like I’m being bombarded,” she recalls. “I wanted to sit down with them and figure out what happened.”
“There was no case as far as this detective was concerned. It was all my son’s fault. He came in with an attitude when he walked in the room, like he was doing me a big favor.After nearly 7 years of inaction, Chicago police suddenly began reinvestigating a case that had gone nowhere. Chicago police didn't even bother to inform Nancy. She learned about the renewed investigation from reporters. All of David's friends confirmed the slightly-built 21-year-old was not the aggressor in the altercation. Daley's nephew and another friend fled the scene after punching David and knocking him to the ground.
“He turned the whole thing to my son started it, provoked it and — I don’t want to say this — deserved what he got.”
She remembers the detective telling her, “Your son was drunk.”
The detective didn’t identify any of the people her son had run into that night, she says, but did tell her, “You’d be really impressed by the names of the people involved in this.”
“I said, ‘My son is dead. I don’t care who is involved in it.’ ”
The meeting lasted no more than half an hour. Koschman, who’s 62 and works as a secretary in a medical office, says it ended with the detective telling her that the people her son and his friends had run into that night had hired lawyers.
“All of their attorneys have been here,” she recalls him saying, “but your son’s [friends] came down with their mothers.”
This January, the police began re-investigating Koschman’s death, the Chicago Sun-Times and NBC5 reported Monday. Detectives began re-interviewing Koschman’s four friends — Scott Allen, James Copeland, David Francis and Shaun Hageline — who were with him the night he was punched. The series of new interviews happened days after a Sun-Times reporter filed a request with the Chicago Police Department on Jan. 4 seeking police reports about the matter.In a strange twist, the Cook Co. Prosecutor's Office is standing by its decision years ago not to bring charges in Koschman's death but says the case file for Koschman's death, which the coroner's office ruled was a homicide, is missing. The prosecutor's office, which was run by Richard Daley before he became Chicago's mayor, says the witnesses could not identify whether Daley's nephew or another man implicated in the case struck Koschman. Witnesses said the man who struck Koschman was wearing a hat, and Sun-Times reporters learned Daley's nephew shaved his head before appearing in a police line-up, which changed his appearance considerably, and none of the men in the line-up wore a hat.
The four friends, now speaking publicly for the first time, all told the Sun-Times that the police and prosecutors were wrong about the slightly built Koschman being the aggressor that night and concluding that whoever hit him had acted in self-defense.
Vanecko’s group that night included Craig Denham, a former LaSalle Bank official who later married a sister of Mayor Daley’s son-in-law, and Kevin D. McCarthy and his wife, Bridget Higgins McCarthy. She’s a daughter of developer Jack Higgins, a close friend of the mayor.
Kevin McCarthy was 31 and his wife 26 on the night their lives intersected with those of Koschman and his friends, who all had recently turned 21.
The McCarthys remained on the scene after Koschman was struck and fell. Denham and Vanecko, both 29 at the time, ran away, the Sun-Times reported Monday.
The McCarthys and Denham declined to comment. Vanecko did not return calls seeking comment.
Nanci Koschman says the police haven’t gotten in touch with her about the new investigation, which she learned about from a reporter.
“You are telling me they are saying it’s an open case?” she says. “Wouldn’t that be nice if somebody tells me it’s an open case? As far as I’m concerned, it’s closed, dead.”
“They declined charges, but they can’t find the file?” said Richard Kling, a criminal-defense attorney who is a law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. “I’ve been doing this for 39 years, literally thousands of cases. I’ve never seen a felony-review file missing. Ever. Never heard of one.When questioned if Chicago police gave special treatment to his nephew, Mayor Daley remained flippant.
“There’s certainly some red flags,” said Kling. “Like not investigating the case earlier, a missing felony-review file, transferring the case from one area to another and not having lineups until a month later.”
Daley repeatedly refused to comment on questions raised by the Chicago Sun-Times after the newspaper conducted its own investigation into Koschman’s death.A Sun-Times editorial is calling on Chicago Police to get to the bottom of the story.
Asked why the case was re-opened, Daley initially changed the subject to his push for stricter gun laws, the purpose of Monday’s news conference.
“I know you want to talk about other things. [But] this is gun violence. Would you ask a question on that one, please? Ask one. Can you ask a question on gun violence? Why not? ... Knock-knock. No one is there,” Daley said as police and community leaders who joined him at the Homan Square police warehouse laughed along with him.
Asked repeatedly whether his nephew was treated with kid gloves, Daley initially said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Then, he said, “I have no idea. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. ... Any other questions?”