After 30 years, man freed in Barrington murder-dismemberment case

Despite receiving a natural life prison term for the murder and decapitation of a friend more than 30 years ago in Barrington, Paul Modrowski is free again after a judge ruled the defendant had been too harshly sentenced in a grisly crime that garnered widespread headlines.

Modrowski was quietly released without media fanfare July 2 from Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet after serving more than three decades behind bars. He turns 50 later this year and, according to public records, is living with a relative in the southwest suburbs.

Two hikers found Dean Fawcett’s dismembered body without its head, left arm and right hand near a railroad embankment in Barrington on Jan. 18, 1993. Prosecutors charged Modrowski and a co-defendant, Robert Faraci, with the 22-year-old LaGrange Park man’s murder that April.

In a Tribune interview, the victim’s mother, Mary Kay Fawcett, said she assumed her son’s killer would die in prison.

“I just figured with what he had done, no way would they ever let him out,” Fawcett said. “The thing I keep wondering, hopefully it was quick and my son didn’t suffer. It’s hard to comprehend, even after 30 years.”

A new sentence

Cook County Judge Marc Martin resentenced Modrowski on June 28 to 60 years in prison. Under sentencing laws in place at the time of the crime, Modrowski was eligible for day-for-day credit, allowing for his release days later.

He must serve three years of mandatory supervised release.

In a recent ruling, Martin had tossed out Modrowski’s original life sentence after finding in part that he had been unfairly portrayed as emotionless and cold during the trial and sentencing proceedings when the characteristics were likely due to his autism.

“This court, with the lens of modern knowledge, cannot help but detect unconscious bias against (Modrowski’s) disability,” Martin said, according to a transcript of his May 31 ruling vacating the sentence. “It is now accepted that lack of eye contact is a common trait of autistic individuals. … It is now accepted that autistic individuals may outwardly appear emotionless.”

Martin also cited Modrowski’s rehabilitative potential and argued not enough weight was given to his role in the crime. Jurors convicted Modrowski under an accountability theory, as authorities were unable to prove he was there when the victim was killed.

“This court finds that the life-without-parole sentence here distorts the case’s factual realities, and does not accurately represent (Modrowski’s) personal culpability,” Martin said, adding: “Rather, the circuit court simply expressed an eye-for-an-eye mindset.”

The co-defendant, Faraci, was found not guilty during a dual-jury trial in 1995, but a separate panel convicted Modrowski two days later. Prosecutors had argued the men killed Fawcett to silence him because they believed he was about to implicate them in an illegal check-writing scheme in which all three men had bought thousands of dollars in jewelry and other merchandise.

While Faraci took the stand in his own defense, Modrowski did not testify at his monthlong trial. He showed little emotion during the proceedings and during most of his sentencing hearing.

The trial judge, Sam Amirante, declined to mete out the death penalty against Modrowski because the judge said authorities had failed to prove his physical presence at the murder scene.

Still, Amirante imposed a life sentence without parole after citing the brutal nature of the crime, telling Modrowski he deserved the same hope that he gave the victim, “… and that is no hope.”

No notice for family

Mary Kay Fawcett holds July 8, 2024 her last photo of her son, Dean Fawcett, taken in Oct. of 1992. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
Mary Kay Fawcett on July 8, 2024, holds her last photo of her son, Dean Fawcett, taken in October 1992. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

In her interview, Mary Kay Fawcett told the Tribune she last saw her son, Dean, on Christmas Day 1992. He was her only child, a “miracle baby,” she said, due to her preexisting medical condition involving ovarian cysts.

An impressionable, sensitive man, the mother said her son was “a follower” who became involved in “something he didn’t know how to get out of.”

Fawcett said she first learned Modrowski may be released from prison only days before it happened. The mother said she was not given the opportunity to provide her input.

The original trial judge and prosecutor did not respond to a Tribune request for comment regarding Modrowski’s release.

Barrington detectives were led to Modrowski and Faraci after finding written items in the victim’s frozen pants pocket. Both defendants blamed each other. A mutual friend testified that when she last saw Fawcett it was Modrowski who had his hand on the victim’s shoulder and “slightly pushed him into the back seat” of a car. Faraci also was in the car, she testified, and Fawcett appeared scared.

Faraci told his jury that he was present during the crime in late December 1992 but he only went along because Modrowski threatened to kill him. He said it was Modrowski who shot Dean Fawcett and dismembered his body.

Faraci later served time in prison for unrelated theft cases.

Modrowski did not take the stand during the trial. Police testified that he had made statements to them that he let Faraci use his car and later concealed the gun, which was never recovered.

Faraci cooperated with Modrowski’s lawyer during the post-conviction proceedings and submitted two affidavits in 2019 and 2011 denying Modrowski had loaned him his car in December 1992 or that he had spoken to Modrowski about killing Fawcett before the murder, court records show.

Through his attorney, Modrowski declined to comment and maintained his innocence.

“Paul Modrowski did not kill anyone,” said his attorney, Thomas Brandstrader, who successfully petitioned for Modrowski’s freedom. “Paul has used his unjust incarceration to better himself and has earned a college degree.”

The murder conviction still stands.

Regarding tossing out the life sentence, Judge Martin noted the rarity of his decision to grant Modrowski’s post-conviction petition after a contested third-stage evidentiary hearing. Still, Martin found the original sentence violated Modrowski’s rights under the proportionate penalties clause of the Constitution.

Life behind bars

Modrowski has been a model prisoner during his three decades of incarceration, according to court records. He was among 20 inmates out of about 400 applicants admitted into a Northwestern University prison education program and maintained a straight-A average. Nearly two dozen college faculty members and tutors wrote letters of support or testified regarding his academic pursuits behind bars.

Martin said his ruling was largely based on his review of Modrowski’s prison mental health records and the findings of a licensed clinical psychologist who evaluated Modrowski and wrote in a report he had “good potential for rehabilitation and successful reentry into the community given proper support.”

Barrington police Officer Steve Graham, center, and others, sift through dirt and debris looking for evidence along railroad tracks near Shady Lane in Barrington on April 23, 1993. New information lead them to a suspect in the headless torso murder case. (Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune)
Barrington police Officer Steve Graham, center, and others sift through dirt and debris looking for evidence along railroad tracks near Shady Lane in Barrington on April 23, 1993. New information led them to a suspect in the headless torso murder case. (Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune)

Martin said the evidence supporting Modrowski’s ability to be rehabilitated is “the most impressive I’ve ever seen” in the judge’s more than four decades working in the criminal justice system.

Kevin Croke, a retired Barrington detective sergeant who was one of the assigned detectives in Fawcett’s murder, was far less impressed after reading an online philosophy paper Modrowski penned in 2020 in which he opined that free will is “simply an illusion.”

“He’s basically saying, ‘It’s not my fault I’m a killer. We have no free will,’” said Croke, who still keeps in touch with Mary Kay Fawcett. “He is still not taking accountability or responsibility for his actions because he feels his life was predetermined. So that troubles me.”

Dean Fawcett’s mutilated body was found 10 days after the massacre of seven people inside the Brown’s Chicken & Pasta restaurant in Palatine. Authorities briefly considered Modrowski and Faraci possible suspects in the now-solved case.

Fawcett’s severed head and limbs were never recovered. His mother, Mary Kay, acknowledged three decades in prison is a long time and said she thinks she will be “OK” with Modrowski’s release if he is truly rehabilitated.

Despite the passage of time, the mother said she often still thinks of her son and tries to focus on his life rather than tragic end.

“My faith has definitely helped,” she said. “I do feel my son is in a better place.”

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