A DuPage County jury rejected a Wheaton man's self-defense claim and found him guilty of first-degree murder Friday for fatally stabbing a neighbor with a steak knife nearly four years ago.
Michael Delaney, 49, was convicted in the June 2009 death of Micheal Scalzo after about 5½ hours of deliberation. The jury of seven women and five men deemed the killing "cold, calculated and premeditated," making Delaney eligible for up to natural life in prison.
Earlier in the day, Delaney testified he was afraid for his life and defending himself when he apparently stabbed the victim six times. He claimed it was all a blur after Scalzo attacked him for no reason outside his apartment building, repeatedly punching him in the head.
Only by chance was Delaney armed, he testified, having accidentally picked up a steak knife along with his keys and wallet when he left his apartment for a cigarette. The weapon was in his hand when Scalzo began pummeling him, he told the jury.
"My belief is somehow that knife got away from me and repositioned -- and that's how Micheal Scalzo got stabbed," Delaney said.
But prosecutors scoffed, calling the explanation "utterly ridiculous."
"Even if you believe the defendant, he stabbed an unarmed man six times, including twice in the back," Assistant State's Attorney Jae Kwon said in closing arguments.
The slaying happened three days after Delaney's girlfriend moved out of their apartment on the 700 block of Crescent Street in Wheaton.
According to testimony, Delaney had repeatedly threatened to kill the woman and her new boyfriend -- who were staying in the same building -- when Scalzo, 40, offered the couple refuge in his garage next door, as he and some friends worked on a motorcycle.
About 8:30 p.m., Scalzo calmly approached the defendant, who had been threatening the group and carrying around a knife for hours, according to witnesses. Kwon said the victim was trying to diffuse the situation when Delaney slugged him, prompting a brief exchange of blows.
Several witnesses testified Scalzo had turned to walk away when Delaney pulled the victim's shirt over his head and repeatedly knifed him.
Assistant Public Defenders Brian Jacobs and Kyle Rubeck argued the witnesses had motive to portray Delaney as the aggressor because they were all friends of the victim. But prosecutors maintained that physical evidence, including a lack of injuries to Delaney and the location of blood and cuts on Scalzo's shirt, backed up their accounts.
"There was no self-defense," Assistant State's Attorney Tim Diamond told jurors. "That was a murderous rage they witnessed that night."
Delaney, an Army veteran formerly of LaGrange, has prior convictions for burglary and aggravated battery. He will be sentenced by Judge Daniel Guerin, who presided over his trial.
The case is due back in court next month for post-trial motions.