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At $1.9 million and counting, Gauger case costly for McHenry County
By Charles Keeshan | Daily Herald Staff

Gary Gauger

 

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Published: 9/15/2009 2:54 PM

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Winning the Gary Gauger trial last month spared McHenry County from perhaps a $20 million verdict.

But victory didn't come cheap.

The county's legal bill for the trial came in at $152,582, bringing the 12-year-old case's total costs to nearly $1.9 million, according to records obtained Tuesday.

About $531,000 of that total has been reimbursed by insurance, but the county could be on the hook for the rest, depending on the outcome of litigation aimed at forcing the insurer to pay the full bill.

"The expenses associated with these lawsuits can be astronomical because they drag on so long," said Sheriff Keith Nygren, who was not in office when the litigation began in 1997. "The county has to defend itself."

Gauger had sued the sheriff's department and three former detectives alleging they conspired to frame him for his parents' April 1993 slayings on the family farm near Richmond. Based largely on a confession Gauger later claimed was coerced, a jury convicted him of the killings in 1994 and he was sentenced to death.

About three years later, however, a federal investigation into the Outlaws Motorcycle Club linked two of its members, James "Preacher" Schneider and Randall "Madman" Miller, to the murders. Gauger ultimately was released from prison and the charges against him were dismissed. In 2002, he received a full pardon.

After a two-week trial last month, a McHenry County jury rejected Gauger's claims that detectives acted maliciously to have him wrongfully convicted. Instead, jurors ruled investigators had probable cause to arrest Gauger a day after he discovered his parents dead, both with their throats slashed, on separate parts of the family's property.

Gauger's attorneys said they will appeal the verdict.

A large majority of the county's legal fees - about $1.76 million - are going to law firms associated with Itasca-based attorney James G. Sotos, records show. Sotos, who has been on the case since its onset 12 years ago, was the lead defense attorney for the sheriff's department and its former detectives in last month's trial.

About $144,410 has gone to the Crystal Lake firm Zukowksi, Rogers, Flood and McArdle for its work on litigation against ICW Group, the county's insurer.

Nygren on Tuesday decried what he called a double standard when it comes to lawsuits like Gauger's. Had Gauger won, the sheriff said, the county would have been responsible for his legal costs. But with the sheriff's department prevailing, Gauger will not have to fund its defense.

"What's wrong with this picture?" the sheriff asked. "I think the law needs to change on that."