A jury at the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago has found in favor of an inmate who claimed that he was beaten by a prison guard, awarding him $451,000 in monetary compensation for his injuries.
The jury held that James Degorski, who had his cheekbone and eye socket broken in 2002, after being punched by a prison guard, had his civil rights violated in the attack. Degorski is serving a prison sentence for killing seven people in 1993 during a robbery at Brown’s Chicken and Pasta in Chicago. Degorski and an accomplice shot and stabbed the seven victims, including the restaurant’s two owners and five other employees, and left their bodies in a walk-in freezer. Degorski and his friend made away with less than $2,000. The crime went unsolved until 2002, when Degorski was arrested and convicted of the murders.
Shortly after his arrest, Degorski became involved in an altercation with Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Wilson, a prison guard at the Cook County Jail. The fight left Degorski badly beaten and resulted in his civil rights lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Degorski named as defendants Deputy Wilson and Cook County, who were charged by the jury award with paying $226,000 in punitive damages and $225,000 in compensatory damages. Following the trial, Attorney Jennifer Bonjean, who represented Degorski, thanked the jury for “put[ing] aside emotions and say[ing] we are all entitled to our civil rights.” The defendants, however, have complained that the judge in the case wrongly prevented them from telling jurors the details of the murders committed by Degorski. The defendants argued that these details were important in understanding Degorski’s violent nature, but the judge apparently determined that these details would be unfairly prejudicial to Degorski.
Both Mr. Wilson and Cook County have expressed a desire to appeal the jury award. In addition, officials at the Menard Correctional Center, where Degorski is currently an inmate, may seek to seize Degorski’s award to pay for the cost of his imprisonment, which totals around $20,000 per year.
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