Pardoned former death-row inmate Gary Gauger told a jury Thursday that three McHenry County Sheriff's deputies tricked him into stating he killed his parents by falsely claiming they had physical evidence proving it was true and saying they could get him help.
Gauger spent more than five hours on the witness stand Thursday describing the 18-hour interrogation that led to his arrest for the 1993 slayings, and his terrifying life in prison after being wrongfully convicted.
It was Gauger's second day testifying at the trial in his civil suit against the detectives, who he said would not accept that he had nothing to do with the murders. He has been the trial's only witness.
Gauger said his tipping point came when, after more than nine hours of questioning, detectives told him he failed lie-detector test and falsely reported they had bloody fingerprints, bloody sheets, a murder weapon and other evidence indicating he was the killer.
After detectives told him people who murder family members often block out memories of the event, Gauger said he finally offered a hypothetical scenario for how he could have killed his parents. One of the detectives, Beverly Hendle, then gently placed an arm on him and said, "You did it, Gary."
"I believed her. I trusted her," Gauger said. "Now I think I've killed my parents. I wanted my brother to hate me. I wanted my sister to hate me. I hated myself."
Gauger, 57, is suing the three former detectives - Hendle, Gene Lowery and Christopher Pandre - claiming they conspired to frame him for the April 1993 murders of his parents, Morris and Ruth Gauger, on the family's Richmond-area farm.
The suit alleges the detectives lied that Gauger confessed to the killings, leading to him being convicted and sentenced to death. He spent nine months under a death sentence, and more time in prison, before authorities in 1997 linked the killings to two members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang. The charges against Gauger were dismissed and he received a full pardon in 2002.
The detectives' lawyer denied they did anything inappropriate, telling jurors Wednesday that they may have arrested the wrong man, but were acting on the best evidence available at the time.
Gauger, an organic vegetable farmer who still lives on the family farm, testified that the trial that led to his conviction was a "sham" and by the time he received his sentence he nearly accepted it.
"The injustice just kept going and going and going," he said. You get to the point you're resigned. You're just numb."
Gauger nearly broke down in tears when describing dreams he had while behind bars of his mother dissolving into thin air as he watched.
"She faded away and I woke up crying. That's how i said goodbye to her," he said.
He later painted a disturbing picture of his life behind bars at the maximum-security Statesville Correctional Center, including stories of being caught in the middle of gang warfare, sexual advances from a bodybuilder cell mate and seeing fellow inmates assaulted as guards stood by and did nothing.
"It's a scary place," he said.
The lawsuit officially seeks more than $50,000 from each of the defendants, though it is likely that Gauger will be asking the jury for a figure in the millions should they find the detectives guilty of malicious prosecution and conspiracy.