By KRISTEN TURNER firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK - McHenry County prosecutors say they have charged the real killers of Morris and Ruth Gauger, 11 years after the slayings and after a first prosecution that stained the case and stoked passions of anti-death penalty activists.
Tuesday's release of the indictments against Outlaws motorcycle gang members Randall E. Miller and James W. Schneider mark the first time McHenry County State's Attorney Gary Pack has acknowledged in a criminal setting that someone other than Gary Gauger committed the murders.
Schneider and Miller were convicted of the murders in a federal racketeering case in 1998 and 2000, respectively.
However, Pack would not remove Gauger, Morris and Ruth's son, from the aura of the case when pressed by reporters. He emphasized that other people could be added to the indictment and said, "I cannot comment on who else."
Gauger spent nine months on death row and three years in prison after being convicted of his parents' murders. Pack's office dropped the charges in 1996 after an appellate court ruling and during a federal investigation of the Outlaws, which eventually led to Miller and Schneider's convictions. Gauger was pardoned by then-Gov. George Ryan in 2002. He has become a national voice of opposition to the death penalty.
Pack said Tuesday that he does not believe Gauger's "confession" to his parents' murders, which Pack's office relied on to convict Gauger, was in conflict with Miller and Schneider's indictments. Federal prosecutors relied on Schneider's confession to the same crimes, and an appellate court threw out Gauger's statements.
Rob Warden, director of the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Conviction, criticized Pack for not exonerating Gauger publicly.
"He cannot find it in his heart to acknowledge the horrible mistake that was made regarding Gary Gauger and his family," Warden said. "To continue to compound this tragedy and put this poor family through this additional pain and suffering is unconscionable."
The indictments came as a surprise to Sheriff Keith Nygren, whose office originally investigated the murders and is a defendant in Gauger's wrongful-arrest lawsuit, which is pending. Nygren said Tuesday no one from his office offered testimony to the grand jury, which concluded Thursday.
Pack said his investigators uncovered fresh evidence, which he declined to detail, but said it would refute the robbery motive offered by Schneider in the federal case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul Kanter and Carol Kraft, who prosecuted Miller and Schneider in the Milwaukee federal racketeering case, declined comment.
Pack said the federal case never focused on the Gauger murders, because they were only a small component of a sweeping indictment against 17 Outlaws members that included charges of arson and bombings during a turf war with a rival motorcycle gang.
A state trial, Pack said, would offer detailed explanation of what happened at the Gauger farm on April 8, 1993.
"There are so many questions still unanswered," Pack said.
In his 1998 guilty plea, Schneider detailed how he and Miller cased the Gauger farm several times before committing the murders. During a visit to Morris Gauger's motorcycle shop a few weeks before the murders, Miller and Schneider found a paper bag full of money and decided to return to rob the couple of more cash.
Attorney James Sotos, in statements in 2002 before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board against Gauger's pardon, said some local investigators still believed Gauger was somehow involved.
Ryan rejected that argument and pardoned Gauger.
Sotos now is defending the county against Gauger's wrongful-arrest lawsuit. He also dismissed the robbery motive, and said there is doubt among federal authorities about its credibility.
"If anybody really looks at the facts and gets around the rhetoric, people would have to acknowledge the truth has not yet been told," Sotos said. "Why were these two people killled? It's very unsettling, not having the answers."
The new indictments allege that Miller asked Schneider, within a week before the murders, to help him kill Ruth and Morris Gauger. Sotos acknowledged that Schneider might have been told that robbery was the reason, but he said Miller might have had a motive he did not share.
Miller, 45, is charged with solicitation of murder, conspiracy and first-degree murder. Schneider, 40, is charged with conspiracy and first-degree murder. Pack said the death penalty is possible in the case.
News of the indictments was troubling for Gauger's sister, Ginger Blossom, who said she believed the case was over. She said she first saw the indictments when a reporter came to her door Tuesday morning.
Blossom said she and her brother vehemently oppose the death penalty.
"Our family suffered enough," Blossom said. "Why would we want other families to suffer?"
Blossom also suggested that, instead of footing the bill for a new trial, McHenry County could instead pay to photocopy and distribute the transcripts from Miller and Schneider's federal cases.
"The FBI and ATF did an excellent job of airing all facts. This was an extensive investigation, covering years. This came out very completely at the federal trial in Milwaukee," Blossom said.
Pack said his office hired two retired U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms officers to work specifically on the Gauger case.
Nygren said he learned of the indictments sometime late last week.
"I was a bit surprised that we weren't in the information loop," Nygren said. "It's Gary's deal, he's doing it. Why he's doing it ... ? He must know something."
The indictments come in the final weeks of Gary Pack's administration. Lou Bianchi is running unopposed for McHenry County state's attorney and would oversee Miller and Schneider's prosecution.
"Regardless of the legacy or what happened in the past, this is a murder case and murder cases deserve the utmost attention," Bianchi said.