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Death penalty is condemned

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 20 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Gary Gauger, who was wrongly convicted of killing his parents and sentenced to die, speaks at UVSC.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

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OREM — The death penalty should be abolished if Americans want to rise above the acts of criminals, according to a former death-row inmate.

"Society is supposed to be better than the criminal element," Gary Gauger said Monday at Utah Valley State College. "We revert to the criminal element."

Gauger, 53, received the death penalty for the murder of his parents in 1993. He spent 3 1/2 years on death row before his conviction was overturned. His address, which was part of UVSC's Ethics Awareness Week, was one of three about capital punishment.

Illinois Gov. George Ryan later pardoned him. Two members of a motorcycle gang now are serving time for the murders — but only after a separate investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Gauger found his parents' bodies on the family farm about 65 miles outside of Chicago. Police in McHenry County, Ill., questioned him without an attorney. Gauger didn't think he needed an attorney because he had nothing to hide. He was naive, he said.

Police interrogated him for 18 hours. He was sleep-deprived and shocked by the deaths. "I was very vulnerable," Gauger said. "They took advantage of me."

Police told him they found blood in his bedroom. They asked Gauger, a recovering alcoholic, if he hypothetically could have blacked out and murdered his parents. Gauger then described how he would have murdered his parents in such a situation.

The "confession" was used against him during the trial. It was not recorded, and the jury had to question whether they believed Gauger's word over the police. They convicted Gauger, and the judge sentenced him to die.

"We need the mechanism to keep the police and prosecution honest," Gauger said, insisting that all police interrogations must be recorded.

Gauger and his family were out of money and turned to a law professor at Northwestern University who had earned a reputation for helping overturn wrongful convictions. Sixty law students prepared an appeal.

In 1996, an appellate court determined Gauger's confession should not have been used as evidence in the murder trial and ordered a new trial. Prosecutors in McHenry County, where he now lives with his wife, never retried him.

Meantime, Gauger learned ATF investigators planted an electronic bug at a motorcycle gang's chapter headquarters. The bureau was investigating motorcycle gang turf wars.

Federal investigators heard people talking about the murders.

Randall Miller is serving a sentence of life without parole for the murders. James Snyder was sentenced to 45 years but could be released sooner for cooperating with investigators, Gauger said.

Still, Gauger does not wish his parents' murderers on death row. People can have remorse, he said.

"There is no place in society for us to say, 'Yes, this man is evil . He needs to be killed,' " he said.


E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com

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