On the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 23, Erica Spoeri said she lost her whole future.
At 1:30 p.m., her fiancé and the father of their 3-month-old son Luca, 26-year-old Bojan Zigic was taken off life support at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, and pronounced dead. A short time later, .
A lot changed for Erica at that moment: plans to be married in October, to raise a family and to get back into school were dashed. And the tragic string of circumstances that led to it could have been avoided.
On Sept. 14, Carl Spoeri will appear before a grand jury at the Maybrook Cook County Courthouse in Maywood, which prosecutors hope will bring an indictment of first-degree murder.
Following a brief preliminary hearing on Aug. 30, Carl Spoeri declined to comment on the case. His lawyer, James Chess, spoke for his client instead, telling reporters that the state would have a difficult time proving first-degree murder, or even involuntary manslaughter in the case.
"It is more a case of accidental death," Chess said. "There was no intention on my client's part to hurt anybody."
Erica Spoeri does not see her fiancé’s death as the result of an accident stemming from a fight that got out of control. Rather, Erica paints a portrait of her stepfather as a man who she has known most of her life to be physically and emotionally abusive. A man who beat Bojan Zigic to death and meant to do it.
'I Wish I Would Have...'
There were many times during my conversation with Erica where she began her thoughts by saying, "I wish I would have..." It's clear that in the two weeks since Bojan's death, she's spent a lot of time blaming herself and considering the ways things could have ended up different.
Erica's biological father passed away when she was young. When she was five, her mother married Carl. Growing up, she said that she was always scared of Carl's temper, which could flare up randomly.
"He could be really mean—the things he'd say and call me," Erica said of her stepfather. "He was always trying to tear me down."
When she was 17, Erica said, Carl broke her arm and kicked her out of the house because she had given him "attitude" while on the phone. She said it wasn't the first time he'd been physically abusive. She recalled getting hit with his belt and hands as a child.
In court, assistant state's attorney Sara McGann said that Carl had been arrested for battery in the past, most recently in 2004.
It would be the first time she moved in with Zigic's family, where she is now currently residing.
For Erica, Bojan seems to have been the opposite of her stepfather. He was never abusive—he never really got upset. When her stepfather would tell her she was worthless, he would take her out for dinner and tell her not to listen to what Carl said.
"He would build me back up," Erica recalled with a sad smile.
It Could Have Turned Out Different
Last year, the couple had moved into her stepfather's home under the assumption that they would be saving money as the couple awaited the birth of their son. Too many family members lived in the Zigic home for them to stay there comfortably.
Erica became pregnant, and she was still paying off school loans. Raising a child was expensive, and so, the couple left their apartment in Westmont and settled in with Erica's family in La Grange Park.
It's the first, I-wish-I-would-have moment for Erica, who is still struggling to come to terms with how the events played out. On the morning of Aug. 20, Bojan Zigic was in the couple's room at the Spoeri home on Kings Court in La Grange Park. Erica said she told him to sleep in because he had been at work until 3:30 a.m., driving a truck to support the family.
Carl didn't like that he was still asleep, according to the criminal complaint. The two men were often at odds, Erica said. Bojan did not like the way Carl talked to and about Erica, and Carl, just didn't like Bojan. He never really had, she said.
"I wish we had never moved back," Erica said as she fought tears.
As it turned out, they weren't able to save as much money as they would have liked. According to reports, the Spoeri family was having money trouble. Lisa, Erica's mother, had been sued three times to recover $10,000 in credit card and other debt, and the family's $780,000 home was in the midst of foreclosure.
Erica said she has no idea how the family got $25,000 together to post bail on Carl's $250,000 bond. She said that at Christmas, she had Bojan had bought her younger sisters their Christmas presents because her parents didn't have the money. Erica said that the couple was regularly contributing money to pay the family's utility bills and buy groceries.
This goes against what Lisa Spoeri has said following Carl's appearance at bond court, which was that Bojan was kicked out for not paying rent. Erica disputes this wholeheartedly. She said Bojan worked long hours—as many as 18 hours some days—as a truck driver to save money for them.
When Erica came to the family kitchen that morning, Carl told her to wake Bojan up because he needed to talk to him. The two began to fight, and Bojan was eventually awoken to come to the kitchen to talk. It was then that Carl hit him for the first time that day, over a dispute about how much money he was contributing to the household and was told to leave.
For Bojan, that was the last straw. As Erica put ice on his face, they decided then to leave the home, put their things in storage and move in temporarily with his family until they could find a new apartment.
Bojan left and came back with a rental truck and some friends, and began loading the truck around 5 p.m. They were stopped by Erica's mother, who ordered the couple to leave the house, because she was worried they would steal something, Erica said.
So, they waited a little while, until Lisa Spoeri could return home to supervise. At some point, Erica alleges her mother called Carl to tell him that Bojan was back at the home.
By 8 p.m., the truck was almost fully loaded. According to prosecutors, Carl sped down the street in his car and stopped at the end of the driveway. Erica said she saw him get out of the car and punch Bojan in the head with one fist and then the other. She screamed, and in a moment of panic, ran through the family's glass door, severely cutting her arms on the broken glass.
She said Bojan tried to get up to come to her when Carl slapped him in the face and he fell back and struck his head on the bumper of a car. Bojan began to shake and was coughing up blood when Erica yelled for her sister to call an ambulance.
Erica maintains that Bojan never once stuck Carl back.
It was then, prosecutors alleged in court, that Carl said, "Let Bojan die. He's not worth it."
Erica said this did not surprise her, and points to it as the reason why she said Carl beating Bojan to death was no accident. According to Erica, her stepfather had made statements like this before.
"He told me, 'I promise you, your child will be fatherless,'" Erica said Carl told her following the morning fight.
Bojan would never recover. He was taken to Loyola Hospital while Erica was taken to Adventist Hospital in La Grange for stitches. After surgery to relieve swelling in the brain, Bojan was pronounced brain dead by doctors and taken off life support on Aug. 23.
'I Feel Like I've Lost Everyone'
The last two weeks have been difficult for Erica. Bojan was buried on Aug. 29 and Erica celebrated her 24th birthday two days before feeling very alone. Bojan was the only boyfriend she'd ever had. They would have celebrated 10 years together as a couple in October, having first met at Park Junior High School in La Grange.
She said her mother blames her for Carl being charged with murder and has told her she never wants to see her again. Her mother would not allow her to get her clothes from the home, or give back a cell phone that contains pictures of Bojan with his son.
Erica has spent a lot of time going over the events in her head and wondering how they could have gone differently. In the end, Bojan is still dead and there's nothing she can do to change it now.
"[Carl] took everything from me—my whole life, my future," Erica wept. "He deserves to be in jail for the rest of his life... I grew up without a father, and now my son will have to grow up without one too."
Erica said that when Luca was born, Bojan was thrilled. They had been trying to conceive for two years with some difficulty. As he watched their son recently, he told him, "I can't wait to take you fishing."
Her son is all she has left now, Erica said. Her plans to get married in the fall—her favorite season—will not happen. It will be difficult for her to return to school to finish a physician's assistant program raising a child by herself. She'll do it, she says, but it will be harder without Bojan's support.
At the end of our interview, as I sat on the Zigics' worn-in couch and talked with his family as they sat together in their living room, I asked Erica why she had wanted to talk with me. Recounting the story again was obviously difficult, why had she chosen to share it again, I asked?
"[Bojan] can't speak for himself—he's gone," Erica said. "I have to be his voice now. He would have done the same for me."