By Ryan Barich, Executive News Editor
Sam Amirante is a defense attorney operating out of Des Plaines. He has been highly recognized by the community as a successful attorney, and has even won multiple awards for his work in the courtroom.
Not only that, but Amirante is also a decorated ex-marine, who served in the intelligence division during the Vietnam war.
All of this, and yet when speaking about Sam Amirante, the same fear inspring name will always be uttered before anything else: John Wayne Gacy.
In 1980, Amirante would represent Gacy in a month long trial, where Gacy would face charges of 33 counts of murder and later more gruesome acts. Gacy would be found guilty and sentenced to death.
Amirante was skeptical about Gacy when they first met, not because of the allegations, but because of how calm and collected Gacy seemed despite the horrific charges.
In his book, Defending a Monster, Amirante described Gacy in their initial meeting as a man ready to sit on his sofa, drink a cold beer and watch the Chicago Bears game.
It was in these subtle moments where Amirante quickly saw his preconceived idea of Gacy being a victim of circumstance switch to being a plausible suspect.
“I started to see Gacy for who he really was; nothing but a blowhard and a big phony,” Amirante said in an interview with the Prospector.
These notions of evil and villany in Gacy came before Gacy went to trial. The reason Amirante still chose to take Gacy as a client because of his undying belief in the sixth amendment: the right to counsel.
Amirante sees the rights we, as Americans, are given as one of the upmost important things we need to protect in this country. That being said, as a lawyer he felt that even the prejudged deserve a lawyer to represent them whole heartedly.
“As the defense lawyer, you’re the buffer between tyranny and freedom,” Amirante said. “It’s your job to make sure everybody’s individual rights are protected.”
While upholding that right to counsel, Amirante was always aware of his client’s sadistic tendencies.
Amirante noticed the little things in Gacy’s personality that showed signs of a mentally ill man. Such as his delusions of being a registered officer in Des Plaines, and then also claiming he was a secret hitman for the mob.
However, Amirante also noticed how Gacy portrayed himself to people; acting like a gentle man who couldn’t hurt a fly, only to later act violent and agressive the next.
“[Gacy] was not a monster looking guy,” Amirante said. “He was someone who more looked like Santa Claus.”
The absolute turning point in his view of Gacy came when Gacy retold the stories of the young men he had murdered. Amirante witnessed how unphased and unsympathetic Gacy appeared while recanting the gruesome murders, and a sense of terror and anger followed.
Amirante saw in Gacy the neurotic, psychotic nature that is common in serial killers and was in disgust with the evil he had let into his office.
“[Psychopaths] are evil people,” Amirante said. “They cannot obey the laws because they simply do not want to, they don’t care.”
The trial was tough on Amirante as the public was anything but thrilled to see that anybody could defend a man like Gacy.
Amirante would recieve hate letters from across the state threatening his life and the lives of his family.
“I can’t imagine what it’d be like if social media existed back then,” Amirante said. “It was just horrible, horrible stuff.”
Surprisingly, the only people who were not angry and Amirante were the families of Gacy’s victims.
Many of the families were rather calm and understanding towards Amirante’s role in the trial and realized that he was just trying to do his job. Harold B. Piest, father of one of Gacy’s victims, went up to Amirante to tell him that he had no hard feelings or malice towards Amirante.
“He came up to me and I thought he was going to put a knife in my back,” Amirante said. “I was shocked, what a class act this guy was.”
By the end of the trial, Amirante learned multiple important lessons after representing a man who would be executed just 14 years later.
One thing he learned was that there needed to be change. Amirante knew that no fault fell on the police department, they had a tough job to do, but after seeing that it took 72 hours to conduct a missing child investigation, he knew something needed to be changed.
Amirante would write the I Search law, a law that would mandate police to execute instant searches and investigations into missing child cases. This law is more commonly seen as the reason behind the amber alert.
Another lesson he learned was a more dark lesson, yet an important one nonetheless. Amirante learned that there is evil in the most average of people. He learned that one can never really know what’s going on behind a person’s fense, or what skeletons someone has hidden in their closet.
“You never really know anybody completely and that’s scary,” Amirante said. “I’m not trying to be paranoid, but it’s always good to be on your toes.”