Man Pleads Guilty in 1983 Rape, Murder of Jeanine Nicarico

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeJustice SystemDeathTrials and ArbitrationHomicideNaperville

CHICAGO -- Brian Dugan pleaded guilty today to the kidnapping, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville, a brutal crime that has rocked the community for more than a quarter century and helped spark death penalty reform in Illinois.

Dugan stood before DuPage Judge George Bakalis in a Wheaton courtroom this afternoon and admitted on the record that he alone was responsible for the Feb. 25, 1983, murder of young Jeanine on a day she stayed home sick from school.

Dugan, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, acknowledged that prosecutors want to put him to death and said his attorneys have represented him well. "This is my decision," Dugan said.

The judge accepted Dugan's plea after DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph recounted details of the crime during a 55-minute address.

Birkett stunned a crowded courtroom by disclosing that no physical evidence ever pointed to the two men originally convicted of the crimes and sentenced to death.

Birkett said the state never had physical evidence against Rolando Cruz or Alejandro Hernandez, who were sentenced to death row before several higher court-ordered retrials eventually freed them.

Those cases led to unprecedented malfeasance charges against seven DuPage prosecutors and police officers, all of whom were acquitted.

Birkett also revealed in court that Dugan claims to have told Jeanine, after raping her, that he was going to wash the blood off her and take her home. But he killed her instead.

The 52-year-old career criminal's fate will be decided this fall by a DuPage County jury chosen solely to determine if he should be executed by the state or given a third life sentence.

Dugan's defense attorneys have said that Dugan has always considered pleading guilty to the crime, noting that at his January 2006 arraignment he remained silent when asked for his initial plea, causing Bakalis to enter a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Dugan, already serving two life sentences for murdering a 7-year-old Somonauk girl and a 27-year-old Kane County woman, has been at the epicenter of a state and national debate on the death penalty for more than two decades since he first told DuPage prosecutors that he was responsible for kidnapping the Naperville Township girl after he discovered her home during a burglary.

Jeanine Nicarico's body was found two days later along the Prairie Path near Eola Road.

Three other Aurora men were tried for the crimes, two of them convicted and sentenced to death before several higher court-ordered retrials eventually freed them.

Those cases led to unprecedented malfeasance charges against seven DuPage prosecutors and police officers, all of whom were acquitted.

In 1985, during plea negotiations in the two murders for which Dugan was convicted, Dugan claimed he was solely responsible for Nicarico's death.

DuPage prosecutors and police declined to accept his story and continued to pursue criminal cases against Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez.

Birkett, a strong proponent of Illinois' death penalty statute who assumed office in 1996, officially charged Dugan with the crime in November 2005, citing DNA evidence that links him to the crimes.

Dugan has been held at the DuPage County Jail since January 2007.

Dugan has continually offered to plea guilty if he will be spared death, an offer Birkett has declined repeatedly.

During his statement in court today, Birkett recounted that Dugan told Robert Thorud, a psychologist for the Illinois State Police, "I don't deserve (a) life (sentence), but I'm selfish."

A DuPage County jury will be selected in September to consider Dugan's sentence. Jury selection is expected to take several weeks and than a sentencing hearing to last up to a month.

Dugan's attorneys have stated that they will ask for mercy, citing their defendant's role in getting two innocent men off of Death Row and causing a more thorough examination of the death penalty in Illinois.

Birkett, claiming that Dugan is interested only in self-preservation, has lined up dozens of victims of Dugan's past crimes, including a reported 13 females that he is alleged to have committed crimes against, to consolidate his arguments that Dugan deserves the death penalty for the specific crime of the Jeanine Nicarico murder and his long criminal history.

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