John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster: The True Story of the Lawyer Who Defended One of the Most Evil Serial Killers in History – Sam L. Amirante and Danny Broderick

gacy On May 19, 1994, American serial killer John Wayne Gacy (1942-1994) was executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Ill, after being convicted of multiple murder charges. It is  believed by some people that there were more victims of Gacy that have never been identified. The truth went to the grave with Gacy but what is on the record are the thirty-three homicides attributed to Gacy during his reign of terror. His attorney, Sam Amirante, had just started his own private defense practice when Gacy sought him out for legal representation. Amirante could not have known that his first client would catapult him into the public spotlight in ways none one could have imagined. This is the story of how it happened and how Amirante’s life changed while he defended one of America’s deadliest serial killers.

I previously reviewed the book by former prosecutor Terry Sullivan titled Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders that focused on the efforts by law enforcement and the district attorney to build a case against Gacy. It is an interesting look into how the murder investigation developed and the impact it had on police and the people of Illinois. Amirante’s book is equally as effective but views the case from the other side. Essentially, how do you defend a monster who has just told you about murders that he has committed? After getting himself drunk, Gacy arrived at Amirante’s office for a pre-arranged visit and confessed to his lawyers that he had committed multiple murders, leaving Amirante and his partner speechless. It soon becomes clear that insanity is the only defense. But how do you defend a man who does not think there is anything mentally wrong with himself? There was no “blueprint” in dealing with a client like John Wayne Gacy and Amirante had been given an impossible task. But to his credit, he mounted a defense in the face of enormous evidence that proved Gacy’s guilt, in particular the human remains found in the crawl space underneath his house. Readers may wonder how Amirante was able to do his job knowing that thirty-three men lost their lives at the hands of Gacy. The answer is quite simple and Amirante delivers the explanation showing his belief in the legal system he swore an oath to uphold:

“It’s much easier to hate the bad guy than it is to support the hard reality that if we are to continue to enjoy our freedoms, if our Constitution is to survive, it has to be supported in all circumstances, even when to do so seems hard.” 

Whether he believed Gacy would be found innocent by reason of insanity is not entirely clear. In fact, Amirante explains on multiple occasions throughout the book how the evidence helped seal Gacy’s fate. And in a twist of fate, it was a small photo receipt belonging to Nissan Pharmacy Kim Byers was found in Gacy’s house that unraveled the murder mysteries. And though the receipt belonged to someone who was still alive, it established that Robert Jerome Piest (1963-1978) had been in Gacy’s house. The fallout from that discovery eventually led to Gacy’s arrest and showed America the dark side of human nature.  According to people who knew him, Gacy was well-liked, successful and viewed as a family-oriented person. Neighbors could not believe that the man they said hello to, had been murdering young men and burying them underneath his home and dumping other remains in nearby rivers. But the evidence did not lie and with Gacy’s statements, jurors found it fairly easy to convict him. But to his credit, Amirante was a shrewd lawyer and wins small victories through the trial. Law students and those interested in legal practice will appreciate his explanations of the criminal defense system and the strategies used to save Gacy’s life, if possible.

Amirante does not attempt to exonerate Gacy for his behavior. But he did believe that Gacy suffered from some level issue of mental disability. But his client’s ability to compartmentalize various aspects of his life made defending John Wayne Gacy an insurmountable task. And even when he was convicted of the murders, Gacy was mentally somewhere else. A sentence of capital punishment was handed out, but Gacy appeared to be indifferent to his own fate. As Amirante explains:

“Only one person in the room was dry-eyed, only one. John Wayne Gacy stood at the defense table, bewildered and lost.”

There are mysteries of Gacy’s life that are lost to history.  He is no longer here to explain his past actions in further detail. That may be a good thing as his past deeds are some of the most macabre in American history. Despite his atrocious crimes, he was entitled to due process, a component guaranteed under the laws of this nation. Amirante knew his client was a monster, but he had a job to do as a defense lawyer.  And in this book, he does it admirably, even at great personal sacrifice. His family went through quite an ordeal as detailed in the book and it should not be overlooked by readers, how difficult it must have been for him to defend his client.  To Amirante’s disappointment, Gacy was convicted by a jury of his peers, and I believe rightfully so. Serial killers will always be with us but that should never deter us from understanding how they are created in the hopes that future killers can be prevented. John Wayne Gacy will remain a case study in homicidal rage and a killer that continues to haunt America.  We may not like the legal system at times and might prefer the court of public opinion, but if we believe in the constitution, then even the worst of us are innocent until proven guilty.  This book is a prime example of an attorney who deeply believes in the American legal system and performed a task that many would have avoided. Good read.

“There are two reasons that will cause good men to abandon their long-standing, dearly held morals, values, and principles and revert to more primitive, barbaric practices to resolve conflict. That is when their hearts are filled with anger or when their hearts are filled with fear.” 

ASIN ‏ : ‎ B005HJ9MOE

Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders – Terry Sullivan and Peter T. Maiken

SullivanOn December 11, 1978, Robert Jerome Piest (1963-1978) was finishing up his shift at Nisson Pharmacy when an older man approached him with the offer of a job in his contracting company. Piest told his mother Elizabeth that he would only be a few minutes. That was last time anyone saw Robert Piest alive.  Police would soon learn that the older gentlemen observed conversing with Piest was a local named John Wayne Gacy (1942-1994), a well-respected but peculiar figure who owned a company named PDM Contractors. Gacy initially denied any knowledge of Piest or his whereabouts that night but detectives felt that he was certainly hiding something.  Although he was only a person of interest at that time, none of the detectives could have known then that in only two years, the worst serial killer in American history would be convicted of multiple counts of murder.  Terry Sullivan was Supervisor of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Third District office and here he teamed up with Peter Maiken (1934-2006) to bring us the inside story of the effort to bring John Wayne Gacy to justice.

I believe that it goes without saying but I will say here that readers should use discretion when deciding whether to read this book. The subject is sensitive and anyone who knows even slightest bit of information regarding John Wayne Gacy, knows that the story does not have a happy ending.  In fact, it is dark, disturbing and one of the most extreme true crime stories that you will ever read.  But that is also what makes it so appealing.  However, if you are not able to read descriptions of violent acts that result in death and post-mortem examinations, then you may want to give this book a pass.  But if you prefer true crime and have questions about Gacy’s story, then you have essentially hit pay dirt.  The book is a good as it gets and from start to finish, and is a roller coaster ride that will leave readers speechless.

Similar to most serial killers, Gacy was described as successful, charming and sociable.  His charm is on full display as he engages with a cat and mouse game with the police officers assigned to tail him as a person of interest.  Undoubtedly, much of what she says and does if overly flattering but the seductiveness of his charm when turned on is apparent and gives the book an even darker chill as the descriptions of his crimes come to light.  In an almost Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine, John would be friendly, overly helpful and a town role model but the darker John, cruised the streets at night, turning his city into his hunting grounds in which young men were fair game.  And between 1972 and 1978, he engaged in a reign of terror that took the lives of at thirty young men.

The book certainly reads like a true crime story and Sullivan moves us along in chronological order.  But it is interesting to see how the officers on the case and the district attorney’s office worked together to develop their file on Gacy, whom they all suspected of being in involved with the disappearance of Robert Piest.  However, as we see in the book, authorities had no idea at that time, that Gacy was hiding far darker deeds.  As their file grew, detectives began to learn more about Gacy and his criminal past which included a sodomy conviction and prison time at Anamosa State Penitentiary. Detectives began to take note of odd things at Gacy’s house, most importantly personal  items that did not belong to him and a rancid odor emanating from the kitchen and bathroom area.  After obtaining a second search warrant to search Gacy’s house,  detectives and forensic personnel made a grisly discovery that changed American history.  Coincidentally, Gacy had paid a visit to his attorneys’ office and what he would tell them left both men shaking.  The walls were closing in on Gacy and after he was in custody, the true nature of the horror detectives had uncovered became strikingly real.

It was clear to all involved that Gacy had in fact murdered a staggering amount of people, but detectives were also faced with the task of identifying the remains found and finally solving disappearances that had authorities baffled.   And although the crimes are horrific, what is really spine chilling is the casual manner in which Gacy discusses his actions.  He recalls each crime as if it was part of his regular routine and no big deal.  This alone should remove all doubt as to just how cold and calculating Gacy truly was. At some parts of the book, I found myself staring in disbelief at what I was reading.  While I knew of Gacy’s actions, there is a wealth of information that might be new information for some readers.   The story is simply mind-blowing and far better than any documentary I have seen.

After Gacy was firmly in custody, prosecutors then had to come up with a strategy to secure a conviction in a court of law.  Their case was built around Robert Piest but Gacy faced multiple charges of homicide.  And while no one doubted that he had killed, including his own lawyers, the defense’s case rested upon the insanity defense.  This is the crux of the legal action and Sullivan shows the opposing points of view between the prosecution’s experts and the defense’s experts.  As someone who works in the legal field, I am keenly aware of the important of expert witness testimony and how it can make or break a case.  And reading their testimony here, sometimes made the hair on my neck stand up not because of any graphic descriptions but because their words would decide whether Gacy would go to a mental hospital and possibly be released or whether he would meet his maker on death row.  Today we have the hindsight of 20/20 vision and know Gacy’s fate.  But at that time, there was a good possibility that an insanity defense just might work and Sullivan expresses his concern as he discusses the expert testimony.  It is a good analysis of trial procedure in what was unquestionably a high profile case.

Sullivan and his squad of prosecutors eventually prevailed and the final moments in their crusade for justice are captured in the book and show just how much effort went into preparing the case against Gacy.  And for prosecutors, securing a sentence of death was the “icing on the cake”.  On May 10, 1994, John Gacy was executed at the Stateville Correctional Center, near Joliet, Illinois.  But surprisingly, the story was not yet over.  In fact, Sullivan provides a discussion on DNA evidence examined in 2011 that brought even more closure to the families of Gacy’s victims.  Perhaps we may never know the full number of victims and their locations. Gacy took many secrets with him to the grave but he was wrong about one thing, clowns do not always get away with murder.

ASIN: B00BPVV2T6