WOODSTOCK – Gary Gauger said that more than 10 hours into a police interrogation, Detective Chris Pandre interrupted him, yelling for Gauger to tell how he murdered his own parents.
“I gave up,” Gauger testified Thursday. “I just gave up. I told him the hypothetical account I told earlier in the morning ... and then I said, ‘I’m not going to sign a confession. I don’t remember any of this.’ ”
Gauger, 57, said he concocted the hypothetical version in hopes of jogging his memory if he had killed his parents during a blackout. He used details authorities told him and photographs they showed him.
His memory wasn’t jogged, but police claimed that he had confessed to killing Ruth Gauger, 70, and her husband, Morris, 74, on the Richmond-area farm where the three lived in April 1993.
Years later, after being sentenced to death and later exonerated, Gary Gauger is suing Pandre, who is now retired, and two other investigators for conspiracy and malicious prosecution.
Gauger was the first witness to take the stand in a trial expected to last at least two weeks.
In opening statements Wednesday, an attorney for the investigators denied any conspiracy to frame Gauger. Rather, attorney James Sotos said, the officers reacted appropriately to the situation and the evidence they found.
The police interview started about 4 p.m. April 9, 1993, the day Gauger found his father lying dead in a pool of blood in a motorcycle shop behind the farmhouse. Police later found his mother dead in a trailer where his sister’s rugs were stored and offered for sale.
Both victims had been bludgeoned in the head and had their throats slit, and Morris Gauger also was stabbed in the side. But Gary Gauger said he did not see enough of his father’s body to deduce how he died, and a polygraph examiner told him after midnight that his parents’ throats had been slit.
Gauger said he suggested the polygraph examination after he had twice asked to leave and Detectives Beverly Hendle, who is now retired, and Gene Lowery, who is now Undersheriff, refused. The polygraph test was inconclusive, but police told him he had not passed, Gauger said.
Gauger said he had smoked a marijuana joint the day before his parents’ bodies were discovered and had taken a hit of marijuana the day of the discovery. He said had struggled with alcoholism, but said he had not had anything to drink for several weeks before the murders.
After the polygraph examination, the interrogation became more intense, with Hendle sitting on one side of him and Lowery on another, Gauger said. Gauger described Hendle as a gentle figure compared to Lowery’s bullying.
Gauger told jurors that Lowery showed him two graphic photographs of his parents’ bodies and asked him how anyone could do that to the woman who gave birth to him. After seeing the photographs and realizing the implications of his situation, Gauger said he began crying.
“This was the first real emotion I felt since finding my father’s body,” Gauger said. “I had been walking around in a haze.”
As he struggled to compose himself, Gauger said police told him that he was responsible for the murders. The officers claimed they found a bloody knife, bloody sheets and bloody pants in his room, Gauger added.
At one point, Gauger said, Hendle put her hand on his arm.
“She said, ‘You did it, Gary,’ and I believed her,” Gauger testified. “I believed her.”
In the trial’s opening statements, Sotos said police were allowed to lie during interviews, but denied that police used that technique against Gauger. Investigators thought Gauger, then a 41-year-old organic farmer, knew more than he was telling them, so they wanted to keep him talking rather than inspire him to end the interview, Sotos said.
After Gauger told the hypothetical account, the conversation turned to his possible motives, Gauger testified. Gauger said he was so disgusted with the crime he, at that point, believed he had committed that he became suicidal.
He said he noticed Lowery’s pistol.
“I tell him, ‘You’d better take that gun away, because I might grab it and try to kill myself,’ ” Gauger testified. “And he does.”
About 5 a.m. on April 10, 1993, Pandre gave Gauger prison clothes so he could take Gauger’s clothes to be examined. That’s when Gauger said Pandre challenged him and Gauger repeated the hypothetical account. The questions continued until Gauger asked for an attorney about 10 a.m.
“I wanted to get a lawyer to make this horrible interrogation stop,” Gauger said.
Gauger was convicted of the murders, sentenced to death, and spent about 3 1/2 years in prison. He ultimately was pardoned, and two motorcycle gang members were convicted of the murders as part of a federal racketeering case.