In April, it will have been ten years since David Koschman was punched in the face outside a bar on Division Street. He fell to the curb, hitting his head, and he died eleven days later from that head injury. In February there will finally be a trial. Richard Vanecko has been charged with throwing the punch that led to Koschman’s death. Vanecko is the nephew of former Mayor Daley.
Most of this probably seems familiar. That’s because a team of reporters and editors at the Sun-Times wouldn’t let the story die. Their complete compendium of work is now available at a special site, and it’s worth a visit.
Tim Novak, Carol Marin and Chris Fusco wrote the initial story on February 28, 2011 that got the ball rolling. Chris tells us that it started with Novak’s memory of the vague, then-seven-year-old incident that had warranted a ten paragraph story in his newspaper in ’04.
“It really always gnawed at Tim that we were never really able to know what went on here after the dust settled”, he said. “You fast forward..and in January 2011 Tim files a FOIA looking for all the reports on the Koschman case.”
The results of the FOIA were surprising. It seemed that the Police Department had changed its view of that night’s events. “The conclusion in 2004 is we don’t know who struck Koschman on the street that night,” he explains. “If somebody did strike Koschman, they did so in self-defense. And the sea-change between 2004 and 2011 is that the Police concluded that Vanecko did in fact throw a lone punch that struck Koschman, and that caused Koschman’s death eleven days later. But they stuck to the sense that Vanecko did so in self defense.”
The story continues. From that lone punch to a 162-page report prepared by Special Prosecutor Dan Webb that’s so “potentially explosive” that it can’t be opened until after the Vanecko trial. Will political interference have been uncovered? Did the Police and/or the States’ Attorney’s office bury the whole event in order to avoid embarrassment for the Mayor? That and more could be known in the next few months. And we have journalists to thank for it.
Andrew Patner, host of Critical Thinking and Critic’s Choice on WFMT (and arts critic at the Sun-Times for over 20 years) refers to Cardinal Francis George as “Francis the Corrector”. The Cardinal seems to have taken upon himself the responsibility for explaining what the new pope means shortly after each of his news interviews in which he sets a new tone for the Church.
“But he’s up against a Jesuit here,” Patner says “And there’s a reason there’s never been a Jesuit pope before…he talks about movies, he talks about music. He talks about love, friendship, family. All without notes. And that’s going to be hard for somebody who’s definitely of that “Benedict/Ratzinger” mind.”
And Patner reminds us that Francis George, unlike almost all his predecessors, is a Chicago kid. He grew up here, and his roots are in a rougher, more traditional time. “There’s something in him that just wants to go back to the neighborhood, and the boss is the boss.”