Last week, a local serial killer was sentenced to death for the 1983 kidnapping, rape and murder of a ten-year-old-girl. The 26 years since the crime are a novel in themselves. The callous, politically motivated railroading of a couple minority suspects by a district attorney’s office so focused on convicting someone that they seemed not to care who – and, really, those damn Spics from the Aurora, I mean gang ties, right? If they didn’t do this, they did something. Those convictions were eventually overturned and many of the law enforcement and DA personnel involved were indicted for withholding evidence. And there was the cynical manipulation of the system by the mullet-headed monster who killed the girl, his ongoing hints that he might confess to this, give information about that, all the while asking the traditional Chicago question – Where’s Mine? That long, twisted story of murder, corruption and politics has dominated the headlines these past weeks as Brian Dugan, the killer, finally faced the music, or at least listened as the jury picked out the song.
I’m no longer a big believer in the death penalty, at least not in Illinois. The two minority suspects (Dugan is white) who were originally convicted for this crime were on death row for years, and the state has had a variety of death penalty cases overturned after evidence contradicting the convictions was forced to light – often in face of active opposition from the state’s law enforcement apparatus. You can’t trust this state with simple things like parking meters and tollways. Trusting them with citizens’ lives is too much to ask. But if Dugan gets the needle, and if he spends the time between now and then tortured and fearful, I’m not losing any sleep.
But that’s not what I’m thinking about today. I’m thinking about Jeanine Nicarico. She was the victim. She was 10.
They ran her picture in the paper again the other day – the same picture I saw in the press and on the news constantly when she disappeared and then was found dead, half-naked, beaten. You look at the picture and you see a face that’s confronted no horrors – open, innocent, hopeful. And you try to imagine that face when Dugan kicked in her front door and dragged her to his car and . . . and you try not to think about the rest of it. But you can’t. You think of the pain and the horror and that realization she must have had at some point – the realization that this was it. This was the rest of her life. That she would suffer whatever this monster – and you use the word monster because you can’t think of anything else, anything more hateful, darker, more evil – that whatever this monster chose to inflict, that was all she had left. And then you think of your own daughter and you think of the little girl that used to live across the street, and how much she looked like Jeanine, and you think that Jeanine would be 36 now, probably have her own kids, and her kids would be as old as she was when she was killed, and then you have to stop. And then you realize you’ve switched to writing in second person, because you can’t quite bring yourself to use I in any of the sentences.
Jeanine’s dead. Dugan will be. And the rest of it, the politics, the banal, grubbing state of human affairs, it’s immaterial.
There is a foundation, though. The Jeanine Nicarico Memorial Literacy Fund. It encourages kids to read. So if you have a few dollars lying around, why don’t you send them in. Light a candle and all that. Because it is dark out there. Darker some days than others. Here’s the link.