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Court Overturns Landmark Murder Convictions in Job-Related Death

January 19, 1990

CHICAGO (AP) _ Three former executives were wrongly convicted of murder and other charges in the death of an employee who suffered cyanide poisoning on the job, the Illinois appellate court ruled Friday.

The 1985 case, believed to be the first in which corporate officials were convicted of murder in a job-related death, was sent back to Cook County Circuit Court.

Mayor Richard M. Daley, who prosecuted the case as Cook County state’s attorney, called the decision unfortunate and said he hoped the ruling would be appealed.

The appellate court overturned the 1985 Cook County Circuit Court convictions of three top officials of Film Recovery Systems Inc., based in Elk Grove Village, a plant prosecutors likened to a ″huge gas chamber.″

The case stemmed from the 1983 death of Stefan Golab, 61, a Polish immigrant who worked at the plant where cyanide was used to recover silver from used X-ray film. He collapsed at work after complaining of dizziness and nausea. His death was attributed to cyanide poisoning.

The appellate court ruled the convictions on charges of murder and on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct were ″irreconcileab le″ because of the different mental states required for such findings, said defense attorney Elliot Samuels.

He said a murder conviction required a determination of a deliberate state of mind, while a finding of reckless conduct required determining a state of mind ″somewhere between negligence and indifference ... conscious disregard of serious risk.″

The appeals court overturned the convictions of the defunct company’s former president, Steven J. O’Neil, plant manager Charles Kirschbaum and foreman Daniel Rodriguez.

Cook County State’s Attorney Cecil Partee must decide whether to pursue the case further, said spokesman Ed McManus. Partee was out of the office and not immediately available for comment, McManus said.

″Mayor Daley said he thinks it’s unfortunate and he hopes Cecil Partee will immediately appeal this matter to the Illinois Supreme Court,″ said Daley spokeswoman Avis LaVelle.

″The earlier decision was precedent-setting nationally in terms of the protection that it gave to working men and women,″ she said.

″Those people knew full well they were exposing their workers to lethal levels of cyanide gas,″ said attorney David Vladeck with the Public Citizen Litigation Group, the Washington, D.C.-based litigation wing of Ralph Nader’s consumer advocacy organization.

″I would hope prosecutors would appeal this decision if they can,″ Vladeck said.

Five people originally were charged. Gerald Pett, a Film Recovery vice president and manager, was acquitted.

A fifth defendant, Utah businessman and former Film Recovery vice president Michael McKay, has been the subject of three unsuccessful extradition requests by Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson. Utah officials said they questioned whether he could receive a fair trial.

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