Courtroom fireworks in Burr Oak Cemetery scandal trial

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BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- There were fireworks in the courtroom and a very unusual start today to the trial of brothers Keith and Terrence Nicks.  They are accused of dismembering and moving bodies at historic Burr Oaks Cemetery in Alsip.

Keith Nicks' attorney, former Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, drew the judge's wrath for violating court procedure in opening statements.  The judge angrily denounced Peraica and threatened to sanction him.

Peraica made the surprise announcement during opening statements that his client will take the stand in his own defense.  Peraica said Keith Nicks has waited six years to tell his story.

Peraica said there is no evidence that Keith Nicks personally exhumed or descrated any graves.  He said it was not against the law to double-stack graves in certain circumstances.

Peraica also asserted that the 29 bodies discovered by investigators in an unmarked grave date back before Nicks' tenure as a foreman.

Burr Oak Cemetery dates back more than a century.

Keith Nicks' defense team also asserted that he never profited or received any money as a result of an alleged scheme to re-sell cemetery plots and cast the blame on Carolyn Towns, the cemetery manager who pleaded guilty to dismembering a human body.  She was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

But prosecutors said Keith Nicks knew that what he and other grounds crew members were doing was wrong and that they surrounded the grave sites they were digging up with heavy machinery, such as dump trucks and backhoes, to shield the grave sites from view.

Prosecutors said Keith Nicks' brother, Terrence Nicks, allegedly acted as a lookout in case a family member were to wander up.

It is an extremely complicated case.  There are two juries judging the brothers on their guilt or innocence.

Judge Joan Margaret O'Brien scolded Tony Peraica regarding standard rules of criminal procedure.  He told jurors that his client has no criminal background, and that is a violation of basic criminal procedure.  The judge told Peraica, "I am stunned. I should not have to remind you of your ethical responsibilities."  The Judge said she would sanction Peraica.

The second set of jurors is now in the courtroom to hear opening statements from Terrence Nicks' attorney.

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