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When Erica Spoeri celebrated her 24th birthday on Monday she did it without her fiancé, Bojan Zigic. The couple planned to marry in October after the birth of their son, Luka, three months ago. But that was not going to happen now.
Zigic, a 26-year-old Brookfield resident, died on Aug. 23, three days after he was allegedly attacked and beaten to death by Spoeri's stepfather, Carl, in front of the Spoeri home in the 200 block of Kings Court in LaGrange Park.
"My son has no father," said Erica Spoeri.
On Aug. 29, Spoeri and Zigic's family, who immigrated to the United States in 2000 to escape the war in Bosnia, will attend a memorial service for Bojan at a funeral home in Lyons before burying him at the New Gracanica Serbian Orthodox Cemetery in northwest suburban Third Lake.
"He was a genuine good guy," said Erica Spoeri of Bojan. "I can't tell you how much he loved our son."
Carl Spoeri, 55, was charged with first-degree murder shortly following Zigic's death at about 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 23. He remains free after posting 10 percent of the $250,000 bond set by Judge Stanley L. Hill, who agreed with Spoeri's lawyer that the $5 million bond requested by prosecutor Sara McGann was excessive.
"He had no intention of doing serious bodily harm," said attorney James Chess, who represented Spoeri at the latter's bond hearing at the Maybrook courthouse on Aug. 24. "Carl is genuinely remorseful."
But McGann and Erica Spoeri painted a different picture of Carl Spoeri. At the bond hearing, McGann said Spoeri punched Zigic in the head twice and then slapped him before Zigic collapsed to the ground, hitting his head on the bumper of a vehicle as he fell.
Erica Spoeri, who was inside the family home at the time of the incident, said she heard her sister scream and looked out the window to see her stepfather punch Zigic. In a panic, she ran through the glass storm door, cutting her arms and legs.
When she got outside, she said, Zigic was on the ground, bleeding from the eye and mouth. He was trying to get up, shaking and trying to catch his breath.
"Bojan never fought back," she said.
As Carl Spoeri walked past his stepdaughter in front of the house, he allegedly told her, "Let Bojan die. He's not worth it."
Paramedics found Zigic, who was bleeding, lying on the grass in front of Spoeri's home. Zigic had suffered severe head trauma and brain damage, said McGann, and underwent emergency surgery to relieve swelling on his brain. He never regained consciousness and died three days later.
Spoeri's statement about letting Zigic die wasn't his first, said Erica Spoeri. Earlier on Aug. 20 her stepfather allegedly made a threatening statement about Zigic.
"My dad told me, 'I promise you, your child will be fatherless,'" said Erica Spoeri.
That alleged statement came in the wake of the first altercation on Aug. 20 between the two men.
Erica Spoeri and Zigic had been living at the elder Spoeri's LaGrange Park home since December 2011, shortly after Erica became pregnant and had to quit her job. For the two years prior to that, the couple had lived in an apartment in Westmont.
Zigic was a commercial truck driver, Erica said, who worked shifts as long as 16 hours. Her stepfather didn't like the erratic hours and Erica's mother, Lisa Spoeri, said after her husband's bond hearing last week that Zigic didn't pay rent to help support his family.
But Erica Spoeri disputed that notion, saying that she and Zigic chipped in their savings to help pay bills and buy food. They even helped her parents buy Christmas gifts for Erica's four younger sisters, she said.
Erica Spoeri and Zigic had been inseparable since they met as eighth-graders at Park Junior High in September 2002.
"He's the only boyfriend I ever had in my life; he was my best friend," said Erica. "We've never left each other."
While she was a freshman in high school, Erica said Carl Spoeri broke her arm during an altercation and then kicked her out of the house when she turned 17. At Spoeri's bond hearing, McGann related that he had been arrested three times previously for battery, the last time in 2004, when he was found not guilty. He received court supervision for two earlier arrests.
After being kicked out of the house, Erica went to live with Zigic's family in Brookfield.
"They welcomed me with open arms," said Erica.
Erica Spoeri also said her parents have been hounded by financial problems in recent years.
"Bojan was taking care of my family while the IRS was coming after my dad and mom," said Erica Spoeri.
Cook County property records show the Spoeris bought their LaGrange Park home in 2005 for $780,000. By 2008 their lender had started foreclosure proceedings, and in February 2012 the bank took possession of the property. While they no longer own the property, the Spoeris are still living in the house.
Since 2008, according to Cook County court records, Lisa Spoeri has been sued three times to recover more than $10,000 in unpaid debts, by a credit card company, a collection agency and a gym.
Earlier in the day on Aug. 20, an argument led to Carl Spoeri allegedly punching Zigic in the head, said Erica Spoeri. That prompted Zigic to leave the home and rent a U-Haul truck to move out of the house.
He returned with the truck and a couple of friends at about 5 p.m. and began moving things out. Just as they were finishing up, Carl Spoeri drove up and reportedly confronted Zigic.
Erica Spoeri said that her father was at work when Zigic and his friends arrived with the moving truck. Spoeri for the past 20 years has worked as a mechanic for UPS. Erica said her mother called her stepfather to tell him Zigic was back. Spoeri got out of his vehicle and the altercation flared again.
Spoeri's attorney, Chess, disputed the state's attorney's charge of first-degree murder, saying he found it "unreasonable to believe that striking someone two times would create the probability of death."
Chess added that because of the ongoing nature of the argument between Zigic and Spoeri, "there was sufficient provocation" to warrant a lesser charge such as involuntary manslaughter.
Spoeri will be back in court for a preliminary hearing on Aug. 30.