Gary Gauger (Photo: Jennifer Linzer)
Gary Gauger was sentenced to death based mostly on statements he allegedly made during an interrogation that authorities claimed amounted to a confession
Morris and Ruth Gauger were murdered on April 8, 1993, at their McHenry County farm, where they operated a motorcycle shop and sold imported rugs in addition to farming. Their son, Gary Gauger, who lived with them, discovered his 74-year-old father's body the next day and called 911 to summon paramedics, who notified sheriff's police. Shortly after deputies arrived, they found the body of 70-year-old Ruth in a trailer from which the rugs were sold.
Gary, 41, was taken into custody and, after an all-night interrogation, made statements that police and prosecutors claimed constituted a confession. He denied that he had confessed, claiming he had made the statements only hypothetically after his interrogators persuaded him it was possible he had committed the double murder during an alcoholic blackout. The statements were not electronically recorded, and deputies made no contemporaneous record of them.
Despite an exhaustive search of the farm, no physical evidence was found linking Gary to the crime. Nonetheless, he was indicted on May 5, 1993, on two counts of murder.
At a hearing on a pretrial motion to suppress the alleged confession, Gary testified that deputies had induced him to speculate about how he might have committed the crime. He said they accomplished this by telling him that he had failed a polygraph examination and that clothes drenched in his parents' blood had been found in his room. In fact, the polygraph had been inconclusive and there were no blood-drenched clothes.
At trial, the jury heard the official version of Gary's allegedly inculpatory statements. According to deputies, Gary told them he committed the crimes by coming upon his parents from behind, pulling their heads back by their hair, and cutting their throats. The only evidence introduced to corroborate the alleged statements was the testimony of a pathologist who performed autopsies on the bodies and a state forensic scientist who examined loose hairs found near Ruth's body.
The pathologist, Dr. Lawrence Blum, testified that the wounds on the victims' bodies were consistent with the possibility that the killer had come upon them from behind and cut their throats, although Blum acknowledged it was equally possible that the Gaugers had been bludgeoned before their throats were cut. The forensic scientist, Lurie Lee, testified that the hairs found near Ruth's body and presumed to be hers had been broken and stretched in a manner that would be consistent with the alleged confession, although Lee acknowledged that the hairs also could have been broken during combing or brushing.
The prosecution also sponsored the testimony of a jailhouse snitch, Raymond Wagner, a twice-convicted felon who was incarcerated with Gary in the McHenry County Jail. Wagner claimed that Gary repeatedly admitted killing his parents.
After the jury found Gary guilty on both counts, he waived a jury for sentencing and was sentenced to death by Judge Henry L. Cowlin on January 11, 1994. Nine months later, after Northwestern University Law Professor Lawrence C. Marshall agreed to take the case on appeal, Cowlin reduced the sentence to life in prison.
On March 8, 1996, the Second District Illinois Appellate Court unanimously reversed and remanded the case for a new trial on the ground that Cowlin erred in failing to grant a motion to suppress Gary's allegedly inculpatory statements. In an unpublished opinion written by Judge S. Louis Rathje, with Judges Robert D. McLaren and Fred A. Geiger concurring, the court held that the statements were the fruit of an arrest made without probable cause and therefore should not have been admitted at the trial. Without the confession.
McHenry County State's Attorney Gary W. Pack had no choice but to drop the charges, and set Gary free. Pack continued to suggest publicly that Gary had in fact committed the crime and was freed only because the prosecution could not meet its burden of proof without the confession. Pack's position was severely undermined in June of 1997, however, when a federal grand jury in Milwaukee indicted two members of a Wisconsin motorcycle gang known as the Outlaws for 34 acts of racketeering, including the murder of the Gaugers. One of the Outlaws, James Schneider, pleaded guilty to acts relating to the murders in 1998. The other, Randall E. Miller, was convicted of the charges in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee in June of 2000.
At Miller's trial, prosecutors played tape recordings in which Miller was heard to say that the authorities had nothing to link him to the Gauger murders because he had been careful not to leave any physical evidence. The recordings had been made by an Outlaw who turned government informant. After his release, Gauger returned to farming in McHenry County. "Until this happened," he said. "I really believed in the criminal justice system."
In December 2002, Gauger received a pardon based on innocence from Illinois Governor George H. Ryan.
Case Summary (pdf)