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Ex-Prosecutors, Deputies on Trial

April 6, 1999

WHEATON, Ill. (AP) _ Three former Illinois prosecutors and four sheriff’s deputies went on trial Tuesday on charges they railroaded an innocent man for the rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl.

The seven defendants lied and fabricated evidence against Rolando Cruz, who spent nearly a decade on death row, special prosecutor William Kunkle told the jury in his opening statement.

``The sorry history of this prosecution is a history of intentional misdeeds, a history of official misconduct, a history of perjury and lies,″ Kunkle said.

Legal experts said they cannot recall another trial in which prosecutors were charged with crimes for how they handled a case.

All seven defendants are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy to commit official misconduct. The sheriff’s deputies face additional charges, including perjury.

Juries twice convicted Cruz of killing of Jeanine Nicarico, who was abducted from her home in the Chicago suburb of Naperville while sick from school in 1983.

Authorities pressed on despite evidence that another man might have been the killer, despite repeated losses in appeals courts and despite a campaign by religious leaders, law school deans and journalists who were convinced Cruz was innocent.

Then, during Cruz’s third trial in 1995, came a stunning turnabout.

A supervisor in the sheriff’s department recanted his previous testimony and cast doubt on a cornerstone of the prosecution _ that Cruz had revealed incriminating details to detectives in a 1983 statement describing a ``vision″ or ``dream″ he had about the crime.

Cruz was found innocent and charges against co-defendant Alejandro Hernandez were dropped shortly after.

On trial are three former DuPage County prosecutors: Thomas Knight, now in private practice; Patrick King, now a federal prosecutor; and Robert Kilander, now a DuPage County judge. Also indicted were sheriff’s Detectives Thomas Vosburgh and Dennis Kurzawa, and Lts. James Montesano and Robert Winkler.

The defendants intend to attack Cruz as a liar who really was involved in the crime, and the case may well turn on how believable and sympathetic Cruz seems when he takes the stand.

``Demonstrating that Rolando Cruz actually beat a murder that he had participated in will eliminate any possibility that this jury will somehow feel sorry for him,″ Terry Ekl, Knight’s lawyer, said in an interview Monday.

The defense contends it’s unbelievable that seven men, some of whom did not know each other well or like each other much, would engineer a decade-plus conspiracy that spanned three administrations in the state’s attorney’s office.

The defense attorneys are also concerned about recent media coverage of several murder convicts found to be innocent in Illinois.

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