Convicted and sentenced to death for the 1993 double murder of his parents in McHenry County, Illinois, Gary Gauger was released in 1996 after charges were dismissed, and later pardoned by Governor George H. Ryan in 2002 based on actual innocence.
Morris and Ruth Gauger – dairy farmers who owned a motorcycle shop and sold imported rugs – were murdered on April 8, 1993, at their McHenry County farm. The following day Gary Gauger discovered the body of his 74-year-old father and called 911 to summon paramedics, who notified the sheriff’s office. Shortly after deputies arrived, they found the body of 70-year-old Ruth in a trailer from which the rugs were sold.
Lacking any evidence or signs of forced entry, police took Gauger to the police station for questioning. During an 18-hour interrogation, detectives lied to Gauger and misled him. They claimed that they had found blood-soaked clothes in Gauger’s bedroom; and they told him that he had failed a polygraph test which was, in fact, inconclusive. Gauger was persuaded by the interrogators to discuss a hypothetical situation, describing how he would have killed his parents during a possible alcohol-induced blackout. The interrogation was not tape-recorded and Gauger did not sign a confession. His hypothetical statements were later used in court in support of a claim that Gauger confessed to the crime.
Gauger was indicted in early May and tried for the double murder. The prosecution relied on the alleged confession and the testimony of a jailhouse snitch, Raymond Wagner. The jury found Gauger guilty, and Judge Henry L. Cowlin sentenced him to death on January 11, 1994. After Lawrence C. Marshall from Northwestern University agreed to take the case on appeal, Judge Cowlin reduced the sentence to life in prison.
In March 1996, the Illinois Appellate Court delivered a unanimous ruling that Gauger’s alleged confession should not have been admitted in evidence because it was the product of an illegal arrest without probable cause. The case was remanded for a new trial. Although the State’s Attorney, Gary W. Pack, continued to maintain that Gauger committed the murders, he was forced to dismiss the charges and Gauger was released from prison on October 4, 1996.
In June 1997, a federal grand jury indicted James Schneider and Randall E. Miller, members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, on 34 counts of racketeering, including the murders of Morris and Ruth Gauger. Schneider pleaded guilty to acts relating to the murders in 1998, and was sentenced to 45 years. Miller was convicted in June 2000. At Miller’s trial, prosecutors played a recording of a conversation in which Miller said that the authorities could not to link him to the Gauger murders because he had been careful not to leave physical evidence. The recording had been made by an Outlaw who turned government informant. Miller was sentenced to two life sentences.
Gauger received a pardon based on innocence from Governor George H. Ryan in December 2002. In 2004 he received $60,150 from the Illinois Court of Claims, but a federal law suit against county officials was dismissed on technical grounds.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions