Her photo was in all the local stores for miles. I remember seeing it the missing child posters all over. It was sad. My own son was around Jeanine's age and I felt so sorry for her parents. And then her body was discovered in a field not far from where I lived.
Her story was in the papers on on the local news almost every day and then whenever something came up. The police were under terrible pressure to solve this case. People were incensed that "nothing was being done".
DuPage County had a really fast-growing community in Naperville with upscale homes and 60,000 people, then 80,000 and now over 145,000. It also had the largest number of triplets born in a community in one year. DuPage owed a lot to the growth of Naperville.
Then, a young man with a criminal record of theft and burglary, came forward with a "dream" that he had.(Of course, they took no record or statements about this dream. It took a new Senator named Obama to require that interviews be taped.) It was about the murder of little Jeanne Nicarico. It really wasn't much, but if anything in the dream led to the killer, then there was a reward of $10,000.
The police, having no other suspects, seized on Rolando Cruz and his "friend" Alex Hernandez and used a little "pressure" to get Hernandez to testify against Cruz and Steve Buckley. Guess which one had a hung jury?
Anyway, Cruz got the death penalty and Hernandez got 80 years.
Suffice it to say, there were many mistakes in that first Trial of 1985 so he was given a second trial in 1992. After he was convicted this time, the Prosecutors, the Police and the Jurors all met at a nearby Pizza/bar and celebrated. The long nightmare of the Nicarico parents was ended and their little girl would have justice.
Unfortunately, the Assistant State's Attorney found a lot of problems with this second trial and with the actions of Officials in DuPage County. For instance, they neglected to point out that a known child-molester(Brian Dugan) who was in prison, had confessed to the Jeannine Nicarico murder.
And the DNA evidence was not conclusive, at first, although it eliminated Cruz and Hernandez as sperm doners, it did not decisively say that Dugan had raped her. So the controversy continued and Cruz sat on Death row. There were a lot of voices out there, especially at the DuPage County seat who wanted this success to be on their resume. They refused to want to go to trial again, but it did and Cruz's prosecutors' case fell apart. DuPage County looked bad. The evidence had been rigged and testimony squashed. There was even talk that Hernandez, who was offered a lighter sentence if he testified against Cruz, which he did, may have been tortured. There was a lot of acrimony and fingers were pointed everywhere. It was the case that started to change George Ryan's mind about the death penalty....his legacy was not so stellar as Bush's...and he knew that Cruz wasn't the only one framed for a crime that he didn't commit.
So Cruz was finally acquitted and when this broke in the news, the tearful parents felt it was all a ploy by Cruz's lawyers and gave a press conference stating their belief in the judicial system and their loyalty to the police who captured and arrested Cruz whom they steadfastly believe to be Jeannine's murderer.
They denied the DNA evidence and the confession.
So Cruz was released but he was not a free man. He was arrested several times. He fought and beat his wife. Drove Drunk. Was stopped and frisked often...whatever he and the police crossed, it made the news. He finally had to sue the police Department.... Of course, he left DuPage County and from what I can tell, he NEVER drives through it.
The DuPage 7 went to trial and the focus was the "dream" statement that Cruz had allegedly made that convicted him. No record of it existed and the police officers all said that they were "told" of it. However, the jury did not convict and the officers went free.
Then George Ryan abolished the death penalty in Illinois in 2002.
Now the Burris connection( AG from 91 to 95): Mary Brigid Kenney was an Assistant State's Attorney who was assigned the role of prosecutor when the case came up before the Illinois Supreme Court....(appeal of trial 2)...and she disagreed with the case presented by DuPage county that she had to defend. Five months later, with a new administration in 1995, Cruz was aquitted by the Illinois Supreme Court. DNA evidence was conclusive this time. (4 trials)
The Rolando Cruz trial in DuPage County was the OJ trial for Illinois. People are still arguing over whether he was guilty or not. Many think it was a "modern day lynching". After all, the white defendant had a hung jury and Brian Dugan was never charged. He wanted a "deal" before he'd make any statement.
So where does that leave Cruz? Well, he is still the only one charged and convicted of her murder....even though Brian Dugan had confessed but not on record and DNA evidence pointed conclusively to him.
There was a lot of guilt to go around and a lot of fingers pointed everywhere. They still do. No one escaped the tarnish but the blame needs to be placed on the powers that be in DuPage County, Illinois.
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