Three former executives were wrongly convicted of murder and other charges in the death of an employee who suffered cyanide poisoning on the job, an Illinois appellate court ruled Friday.
The 1985 case, believed to be the first in which corporate officers were convicted of murder in a job-related death, was sent back to Cook County Circuit Court.
Mayor Richard M. Daley, who prosecuted the case as Cook County state's attorney, called the decision unfortunate and said he hoped the ruling would be appealed.
The appellate court overturned the Cook County Circuit Court convictions of three top executives of Film Recovery Systems Inc., based in Elk Grove Village, a plant that prosecutors likened to a "huge gas chamber."
The case stemmed from the 1983 death of Stefan Golab, 61, who worked at the plant where cyanide was used to recover silver from used X-ray film. He collapsed at work after complaining of dizziness and nausea. His death was attributed to cyanide poisoning.
The appellate court ruled the convictions on charges of murder and on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct were "irreconcilable" because of the different mental states required for such findings, defense attorney Elliot Samuels said.
He said a murder conviction required a determination of a deliberate state of mind, but a finding of reckless conduct required determining a state of mind "somewhere between negligence and indifference . . . conscious disregard of serious risk."
The appeals court overturned the convictions of the defunct company's former president, Steven J. O'Neil, plant manager Charles Kirschbaum and foreman Daniel Rodriguez.
Cook County State's Atty. Cecil Partee must decide whether to pursue the case further, spokesman Ed McManus said. Partee was not available for comment.
Five people originally were charged. Gerald Pett, a Film Recovery vice president and manager, was acquitted.
A fifth defendant, Utah businessman and former Film Recovery vice president Michael McKay, has been the subject of three unsuccessful extradition requests.