Autopsy report pushes John Wrana probe forward

Findings in the police killing of 95-year-old raise as many questions as they answer

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Friends and fellow card players remember John Wrana, 95, who played cards with his group of friends twice a week at the John H. Blakey Center for Seniors in Glenwood. Wrana was killed in an altercation with south suburban police in July.

The state's investigation into the police killing of 95-year-old John Wrana can now officially proceed, with the release of the long-awaited Cook County medical examiner's postmortem report.

Illinois State Police investigators have been waiting for the report so they can complete their own probe into Wrana's bizarre death.

But the medical examiner's findings, released Monday, raise as many questions as they answer about a homicide that never should have happened.

Wrana was an infirm World War II vet who needed a cane to walk. He was mortally wounded by police at his home in the Victory Centre assisted living facility in south suburban Park Forest, and bled to death internally several hours later.

At the center of all of this is whether Park Forest police acted within the law when they first tased the 95-year-old man, then shot him in the stomach with at least one "super sock" tactical bean-bag round from a Mossberg 12-gauge police shotgun.

The State Police public integrity task force is talking to witnesses and examining the evidence. Park Forest police have not made public statements since their initial defense of the Wrana shooting in July.

Park Forest police may have believed they had a good reason for what they did, but I think most reasonable people can't understand how such a thing could have happened.

What was the officers' justification for such incredible violence against a tiny old man with a cane?

The Wrana family says through its attorney that he was shot more than once, possibly while sitting in a chair in his room. The medical examiner's report may support this scenario in one way, while undercutting it in another.

The report cites "multiple contusions involving the proximal and mid-portions of the small intestine," suggesting he may have been shot more than once. But the report also states — in a brief narrative based on the police account — that Wrana was advancing toward officers while waving a knife when they gunned the old man down in his room.

I called Sally Daly, spokeswoman for Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, since the Illinois State Police investigation will ultimately go to Alvarez.

"We've not been contacted by the Illinois State Police at this point," Daly said Monday. "If and when we are contacted, we'll review the results of that investigation and make the appropriate decisions."

I read the 17 pages of dry facts and clinical observations from the Wrana autopsy. The report describes his frail condition, his injuries and more than a liter of unclotted blood in his abdomen, caused by the trauma. It also gives us a sense of this human being, tragically lost to his family and friends.

"The body is that of a 95-year-old adult white male measuring 5 feet 5 inches in length and weighing 160 pounds," the report states. "The hair is short, thin, white and receding …. The face is unshaven. The eyes are partially open. The irises are blue … the skeleton of the nose is intact … the earlobes are creased."

A man who survived service in Burma in World War II and lived in quiet dignity, playing cards with his pals, ended up under fluorescent lights at the medical examiner's office. Why?

Wrana's family believes that at the time of his confrontation with police he was suffering from delusions due to a urinary tract infection. Geriatric physicians and others told me that delusions in such patients are common, and that often UTI symptoms are misunderstood as psychotic episodes.

The medical examiner's report says Park Forest police intended to take Wrana to Ingalls Hospital in Harvey for a psychological examination.

"The initial responding officers attempted to take the subject into custody," the ME's report states. "But he began swinging at them with a steel walking cane, and an approximately three-foot-long iron shoe horn."

The officers called for a supervisor to help direct them at the scene, the report states.

"The subject (Wrana) went into his room and came back with the steel cane and a 12-inch knife with a 7-inch blade. At this time a (Taser) was fired at the subject, but failed to connect as it had no effect on the subject.

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