Life comes to a quick ending when you’re locked on prison death row for a pair of murders that you didn’t commit.
Almost daily we are learning of prisoners crooked from the ultimate punishment. Placed there by unscrupulous prosecutors, dishonest cops, mental illness or just plain bad luck, we hear the accounts too regularly.
Whenever someone supposedly from prison, someone will utter “this case just shows that justice works.”
Not true. If justice was working, why was someone committed to concrete walls just feet away from where they’d die?
One such case is Gary Gauger.
Gaugher was condemned to die based on remarks he supposedly made. The police didn’t make a record of the purported confession.
Gauger’s parents, Morris and Ruth, ran a modest motorcycle repair shop and marketed imported scatter carpets on the little farm where they lived in McHenry County, Illinois.
Gary found his 74-year old father’s corpse and notified 911. The paramedics, in turn, informed the police. When deputies came, they found Ruth in a house trailer behind the barn.
Grilled all night long, Gary supposably made comments that the policemen and prosecuting attorney said amounted to a confession. Gary, 41, denied he had confessed.
Notwithstanding an exhaustive exploration of the property, no material evidence was ever discovered that linked Gary to the killings. Nevertheless, he was charged May 5, 1993, with murder — two counts.
At his hearing, the jury listened to the prosecution’s account of Gary’s comments. According to law enforcement, Gary told them he had committed the crimes by sneaking up on them and slicing their necks.
The single evidence was loose hair located near Ruth’s body. A state paid pathologist testified at the trial that the bodies displayed wounds consistent with Gary’s story — the elderly couple had been accosted from the back, and a knife pulled across their throats.
Gary was found guilty and condemned to die.
Nine months later, on appeal, Judge Henry L. Cowlin decreased the penalty to life in prison.
In March 1996, the Second District Illinois Appellate Court reversed the decision and sent the case back for a fresh trial. Judges Robert D. McLaren and Fred A. Geiger agreed and ruled Gary’s “confession” was the result of an arrest made without probable cause and should not have been allowed into the trial.
Without the admission, there was nothing to hold Gary on and he was released.
Gary W. Pack, McHenry County State Attorney, persisted in suggesting that Gary had killed his parents. Embarrassed by the lapse in judgment, Pack’s argument was ruined in June 1994 when a grand jury in Milwaukee charged two brothers in a motorcycle gang on 34 counts of racketeering — as well as the murder of the Gaugers.
James Schneider, one of the biker gang’s members, pleaded guilty to the murders in 1993.
“Until this occurred,” Gary said later, “I put my faith in the justice system.
In December 2002, Illinois Governor George Ryan pardoned Gary Gauger.