A suburban Chicago jury said Wednesday that a convicted murderer should be executed for the rape and killing of a 10-year-old girl kidnapped from her home 26 years ago _ a case that helped lead to landmark death penalty reforms in Illinois, including a moratorium on executions.
Patricia Nicarico gasped and put her hand over her mouth as a bailiff announced that Brian Dugan _ who admitted yanking her 10-year-old daughter, Jeanine, out of the family's home in 1983 _ should die rather than receive another life sentence.
"We are shedding tears of joy," Nicarico told reporters. "A death sentence is never really a joyful thing. But Brian Dugan is someone who deserves it."
Dugan showed no emotion even as Nicarico family members cried behind him, giving each other the thumbs-up sign. The 53-year-old, already serving a life sentence, had been convicted in two other murders, including that of a 7-year-old girl in 1985.
The jury's decision follows years of court battles in which two other suspects were tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and spent more than 10 years in prison before being exonerated. They ultimately were awarded millions of dollars to settle wrongful prosecution lawsuits.
The case was cited by former Gov. George Ryan as one of several that led to his decision to stop all Illinois executions in 2000, as well as clear the state's death row just before he left office in 2003. The moratorium remains in place.
Dugan had long offered to plead guilty to Jeanine's slaying if prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors steadfastly resisted and Dugan eventually pleaded guilty in July in hopes of persuading a jury to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During the penalty trial, DuPage County prosecutors described the day in 1983 when Jeanine, home sick from school, was abducted from her Naperville home. They presented chilling details, starting with the fingernail marks the struggling child left on a wall as she struggled to free herself from Dugan's grasp.
Jurors heard how her raped and beaten body was found two days later in a nearby nature preserve, her head still wrapped in the towel and duct tape Dugan had used to blindfold her.
Patricia and Thomas Nicarico described in sometimes tearful testimony the daughter who had been the "joy in our lives," with the child's mother telling them she still thinks about how scared and terrified her daughter must have been
DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett has been dogged by questions about his office's handling of the case for years and has defended the time it took to indict Dugan, who he called a "vicious monster" Wednesday.
"Brian Dugan is going to where he belongs, to death row, where his fantasies of raping little girls will now turn into a nightmare," Birkett said.
Birkett even took a swipe at the moratorium, calling it a "joke, and said reforms in recent years have improved the death penalty process.
Dugan's attorney, meanwhile, reiterated what others have said for several months: that Dugan deserved to have his life spared because he came forward and confessed, and had been offering to confess for years.
"I don't expect anyone's going to put flowers on his gravestone ... but people may look back and say this is the person who changed the way we do capital punishment in Illinois and across the country," said Steven Greenberg.
Associated Press Writer Don Babwin contributed to this report from Chicago.