Attorneys for an Oak Lawn man on trial for allegedly killing a drug customer he believed had robbed him blamed a former Chicago police officer for the death, saying the cop was extorting thousands of dollars in protection money from the defendant.
The surprise twist came during opening remarks Wednesday at the trial of Daniel Nevarez, charged with killing Eric Kaminski, whose body was found buried in a West Side home years after his death.
Nevarez's attorney, Stuart Goldberg, contended that Officer Jerome Finnigan killed Kaminski after suspecting he had stolen $40,000 in cash and about 4 1/2 pounds of marijuana from Nevarez. Goldberg alleged Finnigan intervened after Nevarez was unable to pay him protection money because of the theft.
Prosecutors say Nevarez killed Kaminski, 25, a painter who had worked on Nevarez's home to pay off a drug debt. Authorities allege that Nevarez believed Kaminski stole the money and drugs, so he lured him to his father's home in February 2004, killed him and then buried the body under concrete in the basement. The remains were discovered in late 2007 after a tip to police.
But Goldberg and co-counsel Sam Adam Jr. told jurors the evidence would show their client was being extorted by Finnigan, once a member of the department's disgraced Special Operations Section. Finnigan is currently facing trial on state and federal charges for allegedly robbing drug dealers and then trying to have a fellow officer killed because he believed he was cooperating in the federal probe.
When told of the defense's allegations, Finnigan attorney Dean Polales said he had never heard them before and began laughing. Asked for his reaction, he said: "Would it be good enough to say that when apprised of the allegations, Mr. Finnigan's attorney laughed long and hard?"
According to Goldberg, Finnigan had another officer take fingerprints from Nevarez's home after the theft of cash and marijuana. When a print was linked to Kaminski, Finnigan told Nevarez to persuade the victim to come to the West Side home owned by Nevarez's father with the promise of work, Goldberg said.
Nevarez's girlfriend -- who had been living with him since she was 12 in 2001 -- arranged the meeting, Goldberg said, but when Kaminski came to the home, he found Finnigan with Nevarez and the girl. After a brief argument, Finnigan shot the victim -- to the horror of Nevarez, Goldberg said.
"He said, 'What the [expletive] did you just do? You killed someone in my father's house,' " Goldberg quoted Nevarez as saying. "Officer Finnigan dug the bullets out, as an experienced person would do, and said, 'Dig him a grave, [expletive], or you're going to be the next one.' "
Goldberg alleged that in 2002, Finnigan pulled over Nevarez and threatened to arrest him unless he got a cut of his burgeoning marijuana business. Finnigan told Nevarez that he had "been playing golf on my golf course without paying the greens fees" and agreed to protect him from arrest for $3,500 a month, Goldberg said.
Following Kaminski's death, the scheme continued until Finnigan told Nevarez he needed to be arrested because the department was scrutinizing the officer, Goldberg said. Nevarez balked, but a short time later, Finnigan and other SOS officers came to Nevarez's home and busted him for possessing more than 2 pounds of cocaine even though Nevarez dealt only in marijuana, Goldberg alleged.