Gary Gauger is a lot of things to a lot of people in McHenry County. He’s a former death-row inmate who has been exonerated and pardoned. He’s a former suspect in his parents’ murders and also a Richmond organic farmer. He’s a public speaker. He’s probably pitied by some people and an inspiration to others. And now he’s an author.
“It’s remembering everything that has happened,” said Gauger, 54, about the 17-chapter book he co-wrote with Julie Von Bergen.
“It’s the things that I have really been trying to keep out of my conscious mind.”
The book, “In Spite of the System,” is a first-person account beginning on the day his parents were killed in 1993.
It details Gauger’s trial, the time he spent on death row, and what led to his pardon by former Gov. George Ryan.
Von Bergen said one of the most candid portions of the book are letters that were written by Gauger during the time that he was in prison.
“They told about the internal struggles that he had with forgiveness and coming to grips with his situation, even though he was innocent,” said Von Bergen, a copy editor and freelance writer from Lake Geneva, Wis.
Gauger was charged shortly after his parents were found murdered in April 1993 at their Richmond farm home.
A jury convicted Gauger in late 1993, and he served three years in prison, including nine months on death row.
The conviction rested largely on what prosecutors described as Gauger’s “confession,” which Gauger described as a response to a hypothetical scenario raised by police after sitting through more than 12 hours of questioning.
An appellate court threw out Gauger’s statements, because police had no probable cause to arrest him and interrogate him in the first place.
McHenry County prosecutors dropped the charges in 1996, after the appellate court’s decision and amid a federal investigation involving the Outlaws motorcycle gang.
Outlaw members Randall E. Miller and James W. Schneider were later convicted in a federal racketeering case that included the murders of Morris and Ruth Gauger.
Gary Gauger since has become a national spokesman against the death penalty. He has told his story publicly on more than 100 occasions to organizations, high schools and colleges across the country.
“A lot of people find my story compelling, and they come up to me afterwards and want to know more,” Gauger said. “That is why I wanted to write this.”
Gauger has a pending wrongful-arrest lawsuit against McHenry County, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department, and two sheriff’s department officers – one who is currently on the force and one who is not.
Gauger and Von Bergen, both of whom have never published a book, said they believed the story would draw the attention of many people in Illinois and beyond.
“[Gary] wants to let people know that this kind of stuff does happen to guys like him,” Von Bergen said.
“People don’t want to think that they could end up on death row without even doing anything. But this book shows that it could happen if things fall the right way.”