A Mother’s Better Angels


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There will be snow on the gravestone, drifting and blowing in a suburban Chicago cemetery, when the mother comes to tell her child that she got the apology and the story told from the man who threw the punch that killed her boy.

It took Nanci Koschman almost ten years. But she did it. She wasn’t looking for vengeance. She was looking for an apology. And the real story. She was looking for someone to say, “Here’s what really happened,” She knew RJ, a nephew of former Mayor Richard Daley, didn’t set out to kill her boy. But he did. In the 4:00 a.m, gin soaked, desperation sidewalk outside just another bar on the aptly named Division Street, the raw power of the Daley clan collided with David Koschman, a slight, young man not much over five feet tall. Nephew RJ threw the punch; Koschman went down and never really got up. RJ’s crowd scattered, no one saw anything, and several days later, Koschman died. This was ten years ago.

Last week, RJ stood in court with no family, only the best lawyers money can buy, and pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to sixty days in prison, some community service, and told to write a check to Nanci Koschman for $20,000. Last week he apologized to Nanci Koschman.

But in those ten years, it is what did not happen that’s the most telling part of the story. A 162 page Special Prosecutor’s report concluded that no one gave the order for the massive amount of work, time and incalculable amount of money that went in to killing the story, making it just go away, making sure there was no connection between the killing and the Daley family halls of power.

All of this effort to build mountains like giant snowdrifts that had to be scaled by Nanci Koschman to find out what really happened. Scaling those mountains that separated her from the real story would of course have been much easier if someone had made the calls for the Mayor, the States Attorney, the cops, and said. “This is the mayors nephew. Make this go away.” But that is not the way it works.

If you had to be TOLD what to do to protect the powerful—then you wouldn’t have even had your job. These are unspoken rules. Not orders given over email.

So in the course of those 10 years, attempts were continually made, as often to blame the victim. It was the tiny Koschman’s fault. He threw the first punch. But the steel wall of protection didn’t stop there. Written into a police report was a claim that Koschman started the fight.  RJ was never interviewed. And all of RJ’s friends claimed, until given immunity 10 years later, that they saw nothing.

Then there were the lost files. “Yeah,” said one of the cops interviewed by the Special Prosecutor. “I mighta thrown a file away.”

Division Street is wired for video surveillance in a way that would do the NSA proud. But nobody looked at the tapes.

Still Nanci kept going. Putting herself out there. Being the face of all this. Reliving her son’s pain. Along the way she got some major artillery. An investigative team from the Chicago Sun-Times relentlessly kept pushing to get to the story. FOIA’s were filed. The dean of Chicago journalism Carol Marin was part of the team—and there is no greater source of credibility in Chicago than Carol Marin. The Koschman lawyers stood up to the money and the Daley power.

And then finally, 10 years later, in the winter of endless snow, RJ listened to the deal worked out by his lawyers and he said “Yeah. I’m guilty.” Appearing in courts without family,  RJ apologized.

Now Nanci Koschman can go visit the grave of her son and tell him she got the story out. She got the truth. She did that for him.

Some will wonder if that’s enough. A friend said to me recently that you’re never really a gown up till you lose a parent. But a parent losing a child? No one can judge another’s pain, but the reverberations of that pain can bring darkness beyond words. Vengeance? She never had the room for that.

Forgiveness? Maybe someday. If anyone could make that giant leap, I’d bet on that strong woman.

First though comes the trip to the gravesite in the snow to tell her son the story.

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I remember that same cemetery well from almost 25 years ago. We were going there to tell her father that we’d be getting married. The man had survived a German POW camp, made it to America, built a life, and raised three beautiful daughters. Then he died young.

 

So, as we two knelt before the grave to share our news in the open prairie wind she said to him, “Dad, this is Roger. I wish you could have met. But this will have to do.”

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Perhaps Nanci Koschman, will say something similar. That she wished they’d had more time. But she got the story told. She did not call for vengeance.

She inspired.

And that will have to do. 

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2 Responses to “A Mother’s Better Angels”

  1. Emily Says:

    What persistence. Doing right by your family, alive or dead, free or imprisoned – that’s tight. Great story, CG.

  2. toritto Says:

    Nicely done Roger. As always. Regards

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