A man serving life in prison for the murder of seven people is about to get paid.
In 1993, James Degorski and an accomplice shot and killed seven people in Chicago restaurant Brown’s Chicken during a failed robbery attempt. Degorski was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of the killings.
In 2002, after nine years in prison, Degorski and Cook County sheriff’s deputy Thomas Wilson were involved in a fight at a prison facility. Deputy Wilson says he punched Degorski in self-defense after the man lunged at him.
But Degorski, who suffered a broken cheekbone and eye socket after the altercation, says Wilson needlessly beat him. He filed a civil lawsuit against Wilson, the ruling of which was announced on Sunday.
The jury awarded Degorski $451,000 in a settlement. A judge announced that Degorski will receive $225,000 in compensatory damages to be paid by Cook County, and an additional $226,000 in punitive damages to be paid by Deputy Wilson.
While Degorski’s attorney praised the jury’s ruling, the relatives of Degorski’s murder victims expressed outrage.
“If broken bones are worth a half-million, then how much are seven lives worth? This just doesn't feel right,” said Ann Ehlenfeldt, sister of a woman killed by Degorski.
“It’s outrageous — outrageous, giving him that money,” the father of another victim said.
“I’d like to say `thanks’ to the prison guard who beat him,’’ added Manny Castro, father of yet another victim. "That’s the only way we can get back at him."
The good news for the families of Degorski’s victims is this: Illinois law grants the Illinois Department of Corrections the right to pursue all but $15,000 of the money awarded to Degorski in order to cover the cost of his incarceration.
John Winters Jr., the attorney representing Deputy Wilson, will file an appeal to the ruling. He’s hoping to get the awarded money back in Wilson's hands before either Degorski or the Illinois Department of Corrections can get their hands on it.
“I will try to get every dime back out of Mr. Degorski,” he said.