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Wrongfully convicted man calls death penalty ‘barbaric'

Gary Gauger of Richmond, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering his parents but later exonerated, tells his story to Northern Illinois Uni-versity law students during a presentation Tuesday in DeKalb. Chronicle photo HOLLY LUNDH
Gary Gauger of Richmond, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering his parents but later exonerated, tells his story to Northern Illinois Uni-versity law students during a presentation Tuesday in DeKalb. Chronicle photo HOLLY LUNDH

DeKALB - Gary Gauger didn't kill his parents, but he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 for the murders. He was released from prison in 1996 on a technicality, and then a year later two men admitted to and were convicted of the 1993 murders in Richmond. There's a problem with the criminal justice system when something like this can happen, Gauger said during an event Tuesday at Northern Illinois University's College of Law. Called &#8220Liberty and Justice For All?” the presentation was held in conjunction with the Innocence Project, an effort co-founded by former O.J. Simpson attorney Barry Scheck to use DNA testing to overturn questionable convictions. A false confession by Gauger - basically statements he made when trying to paint a scenario of what happened - sealed Gauger's fate, and in 1994 he was sentenced to death. Two years later he was released with the help of a Northwestern University law professor and his students. Local prosecutors said they had decided to drop the charges, but they maintained Gauger was guilty. In 1997, two Wisconsin men were indicted and later convicted of the murders. &#8220That was my public exoneration,” he said. Gauger said his attorney credits the case for leading to a state law that requires interrogations to be videotaped. Gauger has returned to his family farm and travels around the country speaking against the death penalty. &#8220The death penalty isn't just wrong,” he said. &#8220It's barbaric.” In 2000, then-Gov. George Ryan instituted a moratorium on executions in the state to investigate why more executions had been overturned than carried out. Since 1977, 12 people had been put to death and 13 had been exonerated. Though LaFonso Rollins was not sentenced to death, in 1994 he was sentenced to 75 years in prison for rapes and robberies he did not commit. He was exonerated in 2004 when DNA testing proved his innocence. Earlier this year, with the help of his lawyer, NIU graduate Robert Fioretti, he won a $9 million settlement from the city of Chicago. Rollins, now 30, had been expected to speak at the presentation, but Fioretti said his client still isn't ready to go out in public. &#8220I think the criminal justice system has destroyed LaFonso,” he said. &#8220He got physically ill (earlier in the day).” Aracely Hernandez can be reached at ahernandez@daily-chronicle.com.

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