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April 2, 2024 49 mins

We welcome the formidable Karen Conti, attorney and author of "Killing Time with John Wayne Gacy," for a conversation that challenges the depths of our understanding of crime, punishment, and human nature. With the chilling dichotomy of Gacy's life as both a community figure and a predator, Karen opens up about the rollercoaster of emotions and dangers she faced while representing one of the most vilified individuals in America's criminal history.

In a startling revelation of Gacy's possible accomplices, Karen shakes the foundations of our assumptions, and expertly navigates us through her findings that may rewrite the narrative of the serial killer's gruesome legacy.

The tug-of-war between societal norms and the legal system's integrity takes center stage as we scrutinize the death penalty's role in our society. Karen's insights dissect how her gender shaped interactions with Gacy, and the overarching impact of high-profile criminal defense on her personal life. As we reflect on the repercussions of capital punishment on victims' families and its questionable efficacy as a crime deterrent, this discussion brings to light alternatives that could reshape our approach to justice and healing.

Finally, the episode probes the unsettling fascination with figures like Gacy, delving into the human psyche's dark curiosities and the ethics intertwined with the insanity plea. Sharing her own poignant journey with a man deemed monstrous by the public, Karen's personal sacrifices and professional milestones emerge through a narrative that urges us to consider the complexities of empathy, justice, and the human capacity for love in the face of evil. Tune in for an episode that goes beyond mere facts, inviting a deeper contemplation of life's most profound questions.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:02):
Hey F-U, excuse me, Z-Z-Y, it's the Fuzzy Mike with
Kevin Kline the Fuzzy Mikepodcast.
Hello and thank you for joiningme.
I'm Kevin Kline.
My guest this week is famedattorney Karen Conte.
Karen has written a book calledKilling Time with John Wayne
What is this all about?

It's about Karen's timerepresenting John Wayne Gacy
during his final death rowappeal.
Karen spent a lot of time withJohn Wayne Gacy, america's most
prolific serial killer at thetime, convicted of murdering 33
boys and men, and many of themwere buried in the crawlspace
underneath his house.
Karen had an interestingrelationship with the convicted

serial killer.
She knew a John Wayne Gacy thatthe public didn't know, the one
that we only learned aboutafter his arrest and finding out
that he had murdered 33 people.
Karen breaks this down for usin the book Killing Time with
John Wayne Gacy DefendingAmerica's Most Evil Serial
Killer on Death Row.

Speaker 2 (01:03):
You have a fuzzy microphone.

Speaker 1 (01:05):
I certainly do.

Speaker 2 (01:07):
I thought that was all just hype.

Speaker 1 (01:10):
No, it's kind of twofold.
Yeah, I have a fuzzy microphonescreen, but also I like to get
into the fuzziness of our mindsand talk about mental health,
and with serial killers and truecrime, there's quite a lot to

Speaker 2 (01:26):

Speaker 1 (01:27):
Congratulations on the release of the book.

Speaker 2 (01:29):
Thanks, Kevin.

Speaker 1 (01:30):
Why did it take 30 years for the book to come out,
though, Karen?

Speaker 2 (01:34):
Well, I think when I was done with representing Gacy
and he was executed, I wanted tojust get away from that whole
It was very intense, it wasvery negative for my career at
that time and I wanted to giveeveryone a rest on it the
victims, families and it just itwas too much.
I always knew I had a book inme because everywhere I went,

everywhere I've gone for 30years people ask me you know,
how did you do that?
Why did you do it?
But they also ask what was itlike?
And so I knew I had a story inme and I think during COVID I
just sat down and I startedwriting and I really enjoyed the
process of writing and Ifinished it up and here I am.

Speaker 1 (02:13):
Well, the book is amazing in the respect that it's
very informative, it's verycandid, but there's also some
humorous aspects to it.
Your writing style is very,very reader friendly.

Speaker 2 (02:24):
Thanks, and you know it's hard to be humorous when,
to it, your writing style isvery, very reader-friendly,
And you know it's hard to behumorous when you're talking
about somebody who's done suchhorrible things, and so I don't
like to wave that flag.
But you know what I do for aliving and what many people do
for a living.
You know you have gallows humorand you make light of what's
going on because it's verydifficult and hard to handle the

stress and the gravity of whatyou're doing.
And so you know Gacy and I hada banter back and forth.
He was very humorous and I talkabout that in my book, that I
think that was one of the wayshe sort of deflected that
darkness that he had and also itmade him attractive to people,

to people.
And you know he was all aboutgetting people into his charmed
you know charm and manipulatingthem and doing to them what he
So as a sociopath, his sense ofhumor really served him well.

Speaker 1 (03:14):
We're talking about serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
We're talking with author andattorney Karen Conte.
Killing Time with John WayneGacy, defending America's most
evil serial killer on death row,convicted of 33 murders.
You say that even on the day ofhis execution he was cracking
jokes with the guards.

Speaker 2 (03:31):
He was.
I mean he, you know, he, he, hedidn't stop that.
You know he was very funny.
At one point he said somethinglike I wish they had the
electric chair because, and theguards were like why?
And he said because then I'dask you to hold my hand.
So you know he had them all andyou know, having an execution
imminent in his life was did notstop him from cracking those


Speaker 1 (03:56):
You use the word sociopath in describing him
Is that why he was able to jokebefore getting executed on the
very same day, but his lastwords were not joking at all.
His last words were kiss my ass.

Speaker 2 (04:11):
He didn't say that that is an urban legend, yeah.
He did not say that and I havespoken to at least seven people
who were present at theexecution and he did not say
that it's a good story.
I think that sociopaths youknow I mean there's a lot to
unpack when you're talking abouta sociopath.

But I think one of the elementsof Gacy's personality was that
he was very compartmentalized.
He had this life where he wasmoral, he acted in a moral
fashion, he went to church, heworked really hard at his
business, he volunteered, he wasa politician, in a way a minor
He shoveled the walks for hiselderly neighbors.

He did all of these good thingsand then at night he would go
out and he'd get these boys andmen and torture them and kill
So he was able to be in denialabout that bad side of him.
So I think that served him well.
When the execution was coming,because he just didn't deal with
it, I would talk to him aboutit.
I would say are you okay?

Do you need to get your affairsin order?
Is there something I can do?
Because that's what I do as alawyer I'm supposed to help that
person legally.
And he did not want to talkabout it and I think that
probably saved him from a lot ofmental agony.

Speaker 1 (05:29):
Yeah, I would imagine .
So you said that you talked topeople who were at the execution
You were not as one of hisattorneys, you weren't.

Speaker 2 (05:38):
No, I was not allowed to be there.
I didn't like that because Iwanted to be there.
You know, we are, as lawyers,entitled to be with our clients
at any step in the processduring an interview, during
arrest, after appeals, whatever.
So but in Illinois that wasn'tthe case and in fact, the
victim's families didn't get togo.
It was a lottery that was drawnand a lot of the media ended up

being the witnesses there.

Speaker 1 (06:04):
Wow, a lottery to watch somebody get killed.

Speaker 2 (06:07):
Yeah, you know, I wanted to be there because I
felt that was my job as Stacy'slawyer.
I thought that he deserved tohave somebody there.
But I also wanted to experiencethat because if we're going to
be in the process, if ourgovernment is going to be in the
process of executing people, Iwant to see what that's like.
I do, even if it's gory, evenif it's hard to watch.

I think it's important that Iyou know that I did that, but I,
you know, I guess, looking back, it probably saved me a little
bit of bad memories.
I guess watching someone beexecuted probably wouldn't have
been the most pleasant thing inthe world, no matter who it is I
don't care if it's Gacy orMother Teresa it would have been

awful to watch.

Speaker 1 (06:52):
You actually say Gacy was the poster child for the
death penalty, but since the ageof seven you have been
anti-death penalty.
Tell me about that conversationyou had with your dad at such a
young age.

Speaker 2 (07:02):
Yeah, he had to remind me of that.
We were listening to somethingon the radio about executions
and I don't know exactly what itwas, and my dad said yeah, you
know, if someone kills, theyshould just kill the.
You know?
And he uses swear word.
And I said no, why?
I said why?
So if you kill somebody, you'resupposed to be killed.
That doesn't make sense.
It's sort of like saying I havea messy room and my punishment

is going to be you're going tomess up my room.
So a lawyer was born at thatmoment, I think.

Speaker 1 (07:28):
Yeah, absolutely.
Gacy had 20 appeals in over 14years.

Speaker 2 (07:35):
This is just the system.
He didn't get any more thananyone else and the system
There are a lot of appeals andliberal lawyers did not create
this appellate process.
Conservative judges andpoliticians and legislators do,
because we make mistakes all thetime.
In fact, one of the things Italk about in my book was that

in about a 15-year period afterGacy was executed, we had 12 men
walk off a death row not ontechnical arguments, on actual
innocence, because someoneconfessed, because DNA proved
them not guilty, and 12 wereexecuted.
So we had this 12 and 12.
That's a bad batting averagewhen you're executing people,

and our Republican conservativegovernor took one look at that
and said I can't do this on mywatch, and he commuted all of
the sentences for all the peopleon death row, which led to a
moratorium, which led to theabolition of the death penalty
in Illinois.

Speaker 1 (08:30):
In the book you actually, along with your
partner at the time, said Gacywouldn't be executed because
Illinois didn't do that.
It was like 1962 was theprevious time that they had put
somebody to death.
So how shocking was it to youthat Gacy actually got a date.

Speaker 2 (08:47):
That was shocking to me, because there was a
moratorium on the death penaltyin the 70s due to the fact that
the US Supreme Court said thatthe death penalty is cruel and
unusual unless the governmentwould retool its jury
instructions to make it lesscruel and unusual.
So there was a period of timewhere all the death sentences
were commuted and then theystarted using it again because

they retooled the juryinstructions.
So there was this time when Iwas growing up and when I was a
For the first few years wedidn't have executions, not
because people weren't beingsentenced to death, it was just
that there was a lull in theexecution machinery.

Speaker 1 (09:25):
So you're 29 years old, pretty much been an
attorney for six years.
At this time you get the phonecall to represent Gacy.
How did this come about?

Speaker 2 (09:40):
Well, my partner and I had argued before the US
Supreme Court a couple of yearsback on a First Amendment case,
and so I guess our names were upon the list of First Amendment
In Illinois.
Gacy had been sued by theprison.
There's a statute in Illinoisthat says that if you can afford
your incarceration then youhave to pay it.
So the prison had brought alawsuit against Gacy because
they thought he was making a lotof money on his horrible

paintings that he was doing inhis prison cell, and Gacy wanted
to defend it.
Well, I was like you have sevenmonths left to live.
Why would you defend a civillawsuit First of all?
Why would the prison bring it?
But you know?
But I wanted to meet him.
So I agreed, along with mypartner, to go down the six and
a half hours south on theMississippi River and visit the

most prolific serial killer inthe history of the country.
At that time I did it.
I wanted to do it just to havethe experience.
I had no intention ofrepresenting him in anything.

Speaker 1 (10:33):
So then, how did you get on the death row?
Appeal team.

Speaker 2 (10:36):
Well, I don't.
It just hit me that when I methim and I saw what was going to
happen to him and I saw theother people on death row who
were walking around millingabout freely, I thought to
myself they're going to reallyexecute these people and I'm
really against the death penalty.
And you know what?
Gacy's civil case you know I'llhandle that and get rid of it.

But what I really want to do isdo something important.
I want to stand up against thedeath penalty, even for someone
who's as evil as Gacy, and Ithought to myself that Gacy will
probably be executed.
If there's anybody in thiscountry who deserves a death
penalty, it's him.
He's as guilty as can be.
He had good lawyers, he's white, he didn't have any racist

issues, he was unrepentant.
He was not sympathetic.
You know issues.
He was unrepentant.
He was not sympathetic.
But I also thought that byadvocating for him, I was also
advocating for all the otherpeople on death row, not only in
Illinois but all over thecountry, who might have some of
these good arguments forexoneration or just at least

stopping the death penalty.
So I kind of thought it was acause rather than just one

Speaker 1 (11:45):
I can get that.
I understand that.
But Gacy, when he was arrested,became the most reviled human
in America, maybe even the world, other than Hitler.
How did you representing himaffect your reputation?

Speaker 2 (11:59):
Well, during the time I represented him, I think it
took a plummet.
I mean, I naively believed thateveryone would understand that
I'm doing my job.
That's what you do as acriminal defense lawyer.
You represent people who areguilty.
You represent people who arenice, who are mean, who embezzle
, who beat their wives, who, youknow, manufacture asbestos.
You know I've done all of thosethings.
This is what we do.

But we all all the lawyers onthe team, including myself and
especially myself we got a lotof public backlash and we had
death threats, most of themdirected to me.
We had a bomb threat thatemptied part of our building.
I got kicked out of arestaurant because someone
complained that Gacy's lawyer isover there eating.
I had neighbors come up to meand say things.

So even judges took me asideand said you know, you're
embarrassing the profession,just let the guy die.
I mean a judge, what you wouldthink would understand why I was
doing what I was doing.
So it was really terrible forthat seven months, but after
Gacy was executed, thingschanged completely.
I think there was a societalrelief that he was dead and that

now, oh, you represented Gacy.
Well, that's an interestingexperience.
And so then it became a noveltyto this day that when I get
introduced it's Karen Conti.
She represented Gacy.

Speaker 1 (13:15):
Yeah, well, I did not introduce you as that, because
I knew that that is a stigmathat has stayed with you
throughout the entire processfrom 1994 until now.
I introduced you as the authorof Killing Time with John Wayne
Karen Conte, would you say thatover the time that you
represented Gacy you becamefriends?

Speaker 2 (13:36):
I wouldn't say we became friends.
I would say that we had anamiable relationship.
I have to connect with myclients to do a good job.
I do this with all of myclients, even the ones I really
don't like, and actually Gacywas not the most unlikable
client I've ever had.
I've had very difficult clientswho are really horrible to me

and horrible to everybody.
But Gacy was a sociopath, sothey're a shell of a person, so
you don't really get a fullperson.
He doesn't have real feelingsfor anyone or anything.
So even if he says the rightthing, it's because he knows he
should say it.
So I didn't feel like I wasdealing with somebody whole.

But there was a sense ofhumanity in him and he and I
exchanged pleasantries.
He and I talked about family.
He and I talked about family,he and I talked about different
experiences we had and I bondedwith him to do my job.
And it turns out that of thelawyers on the team I was the
only female I was able to getwork done with him because he

was very difficult to deal with,confrontational, he was
oppositional, especially withmen, but with me he was softer
and I was able to kind of gethim to calm down and then we do
our work and we'd get it done.
So I think being a woman wasactually very helpful in
representing him.

Speaker 1 (14:57):
A couple of things I want to touch on, but you
brought up being a woman.
Tell me about being a woman andwalking on death row the first

Speaker 2 (15:03):
Well, whenever you go to a prison and you're a woman,
you are a target and you knowcatcalling and all that stuff.
But you know you expect thatand that's just the way, that's
the way of the world there.
But when we walked into deathrow, I knew that Gacy wasn't
going to hurt me.
First of all, I wasn't his type.

Speaker 1 (15:23):

Speaker 2 (15:23):
Second of all, he was a compartmentalized killer.
He would he, he had he wantedto manipulate me.
That's, I mean, that's his job,is manipulation.
So I had a purpose for him, sothere was no way he was going to
harm me.
In fact, in some of thepassages that you may have read,
he actually protected me whenone prisoner lunged into the

area where we were sitting, whowas really psychotic and maybe
was having a psychotic break.
So the other.
But the other prisoners werenot as controlled as Gacy and
those people were, I would say,a little more frightening
because they didn't.
I didn't sense that they hadcontrol over their, their
conduct, right.

Speaker 1 (16:04):
Well, it's got to be scary because there's really no
other penalty that you can getoutside of being on death row.
So what's preventing them fromattacking you?
They can't face anything moreharsh, you know.

Speaker 2 (16:17):
The nothing left to lose argument.
Yeah, exactly, I did feel that.
But I also felt, kevin, thatthey, even in their psychotic
states or their mentally illstates, they understood we were
there to save Gacy, and if Gacywent then the rest of them are
going to go.
So they were, I think, like atleast trying to control

And you know, a couple of themcame over, introduced themselves
, asked if we could help theircase or send them case law or
help them.
So you know they're desperate.
So actually the scariest peoplethere were the guards.

Speaker 1 (16:54):
Is that?

Speaker 2 (16:54):
They just they seemed I don'tknow like I don't think if
something were to have happened.
First of all, in death row inIllinois.
Everyone thinks it's theplexiglass thing, but no, it's
like this big bullpen whereyou're there with all the free
range killers walking around andyou're kind of like, oh,
there's the I-57 kill and thatguy poisoned his whole family.
I mean it's just crazy and butthe guards are locked in the

other room and I doubt theywould do anything to help us if
something would happen.
I just felt that that they werekind of enjoying watching us be
squirm a little bit.
I don't know, maybe that wasjust my, my take on it.

Speaker 1 (17:32):
And considering that Gacy killed boys, was death row
the safest place for him inprison.

Speaker 2 (17:38):
I think it was.
In fact, I asked Gacy aboutsomething about getting out of
prison and and because of coursewe never, we never were trying
to do that, just so yourlisteners are clear we just
wanted the death penalty off thetable.
That's all we were doing.
We were never going to have himout, no one was ever going to
let him out.
But he said he would ratherstay in prison.
And I said, john, why?

Really, you know what hole.
And he said you know what, I'msafer here.
And I don't think he meant that, but he probably was safer.
I think what he was saying to methrough all the things he has
told me, I think he at the veryend, wanted to be caught because
he was in a frenzy.

A lot of serial killers theystart out once a year, then it
ramps up and then they need moreviolence, then they need more
victims, and so Gacy, I think,at the end, was very, it was
just wearing at him, and so itwas a relief for him to be
arrested and to confess to allof these crimes.
And I think he knew that if hegot out he would just start

doing it again and he'd be backwhere he was before.
I think he liked the regularityof prison and the idea that he
couldn't do this anymore.
Again, I'm not saying that Gacywas rehabilitated and, like now
, didn't want to kill people.
He did.
I'm sure he did, but he knew hecouldn't do it in the prison
and that was better for him.
So then that begs the questionwhy was John Wayne Gacy's life?

Speaker 1 (19:06):
savable or worth saving.

Speaker 2 (19:07):
I look at it the other way.
Why kill him?
Okay, you know, I, I just Ialways just change that question
because I don't.
I just to say why shouldsomeone live is just.
It goes against my grain and II think that Gacy got a lot of
attention because of theexecution.
I think the entire processprobably cost Illinois over $5
We tried to calculate that Ifwe had just put them in jail,

thrown away the key, I justthink it would have been less
expensive and it just gave himso much attention.
And you know what, no one canremember a single name of any of
those 33 young men and boys whowere buried under his house.
But we all know John Gacy and Ijust think that some of these
executions put the focus on thewrong person.
There's a lot of people, too,who think that being in prison

is a lot more punishment than asimple execution.
I'm not sure I believe that oneway or the other, but I just
think there's a million reasonsnot to execute somebody, even
someone evil like Gacy KarenConte.

Speaker 1 (20:05):
I don't want to spend a second in prison.
I really don't.
I mean, you know, I, I, just I,I know I wouldn't survive.
Number one and number two I,it's just it, it's hopeless and
they don't have a fuzzymicrophone.
They do not.
Yeah, you, you said earlierthat you know explaining Gacy's

psychopathic and sociopathicpersonality.
Was he born that way or wasthat over time developed?

Speaker 2 (20:35):
That's such a great question and I do talk about
that in my book and I would sayI talk about it but I sort of
muse about it because no onewill ever know.
We do know that his brain wasexamined after his execution and
the psychiatrist could not findanything organically wrong with
his brain.
So you know, the experts willtell you that.
You know, I don't believe thatpeople are born evil, I just

And I believe that Gacy had acombination of things going on.
I think his father was abusive,but he wasn't more abusive than
a lot of fathers at that time.
His father was abusive, but hewasn't more abusive than a lot
of fathers at that time.
He beat him, he belittled him.
He was named after John Wayne,the macho actor, and he was
never macho.
He never wanted to hunt or fishor do any of the sports that

his father wanted him.
So his father used homophobicwords with him, which wasn't
But you know that's notsomething that makes you into a
serial killer necessarily.
He was sexually abused twicewhen he was young, by all
accounts, and he did sustain twovery serious head injuries.
His sister told me that and weall know from our research that

if some people who have headinjuries it can actually change
their personality, change thatimpulse control part or the
empathy part of their brain.
And I think he was raised in avery Catholic setting, very
strict, and I think he was ahomosexual and he knew that and
I think he didn't want to be andI think my guess from an

armchair psychologist point ofview is that he was killing
himself over and over again whenhe was killing these boys.

Speaker 1 (22:11):
That is something that I read and, uh, and I also
heard you say that in a previousinterview and that makes
complete sense.
Uh, you know, there's a part ofhim in what I know about him
and that's just based on booksand movies that he did.
He, he had a tough timereconciling parts of his life

with himself the homosexualityand and the.
Didn't he have a need fornotoriety?
Didn't he have a need to besomebody powerful?

Speaker 2 (22:43):
Yes, so he was, aside from being a sociopath, he was
also diagnosed as a narcissisticpersonality.
They have a low self-esteembecause of what happened to them
in their childhood, generallyspeaking, and so what they do is
they seek out fame and theyseek out money and status.
That's why you see a lot ofnarcissists run for office or
become lawyers, you know,because it's a status thing.

And then narcissists are veryobsessed with status, and so
Gacy had all of that.
I mean, he liked to run withthe politicians, he he made good
money, he liked to throwparties and he liked, he liked,
to be in the fray with with allthe big shots.
Certainly he had thosetendencies.

Speaker 1 (23:22):
Killing time with John Wayne Gacy, defending
America's most evil serialkiller on death row.
Karen Conte, who was one ofGacy's death row appellate
attorneys, is my guest today.
The notoriety how well knownwas Gacy in prison.

Speaker 2 (23:37):
Oh yeah, he was a big man on campus there, for sure,
and you know he was that waybecause he had money and he had
money because he was, he wasdoing these horrible pains.
He actually had a 900 numberwhere you remember those 900
numbers where people could calland hear him talk about how he
was the 34th victim, which wasjust really horrible.

But he made money doing that.
I'm not saying a lot of money,but enough to buy things in the
commissary and at the time therewere cigarettes available and
those types of things.
So if he wanted protection, hewas able to do that by giving
people canned food or whatever.
There's a certain currency inthe prison system and he

certainly was able to do that.
But despite the idea that hewas big man on campus, he did
get attacked by one of theunruly death row inmates.
He was stabbed several times.
So yeah, death row is certainlya very, very dangerous place,
but Gacy could protect himselfwith the little money that he

Speaker 1 (24:36):
That is something about Gacy.
I did not know.
I didn't know he was attackedin prison until I heard that on
one of your interviews.

Speaker 2 (24:42):
Yeah, the guy who attacked him is a bad dude.
I mean, he makes Gacy look likea Boy Scout in a way.
But you know, and he was justviolent and he attacked guards.
In fact he was in prison with alife sentence and then he
attacked and killed the guards,for which he got the death
So here was a guy who was justa walking crime spree.

Speaker 1 (25:03):
How were the victim's families when you were
representing Gacy?
Did you ever have anyinteraction with them?

Speaker 2 (25:08):
I did not and I'm surprised that I didn't.
I really, you know I can't saythis enough, but I mean my heart
goes out to the victims'families.
I mean my representation ofGacy, I'm sure, irritated them

to no end.
I'm sure that this book isgoing to bring up really bad
memories and I'm waiting for thehate mail to start.
But again, you know, I say inmy book that I, you know you're,
when you're a lawyer, you haveone focus.
You know, whether you're aprosecutor or a defense lawyer,
I don't make justice, I just domy job.
And I, I have to say that I, ifI don't do my job, and I have
to say that if I don't do my job, then the wrong person could be

Now, that wasn't what happenedwith Gacy.
I'm not even beginning to saythat.
But if I don't get it right andif I don't give him a really
good defense, then someone elsewalks away.
Who's the real killer?
No-transcript guy went to jail.

I hope he did.
So I'm not immune to the lossand to all of that, because if
that were my brother or myhusband or you know, gosh, I
don't know what I would do.
You know, I would hate everyonetoo.
I would hate, I would lash out,but I can't live my life

thinking about that.

Speaker 1 (26:53):
Two things there.
Number one I have a good friendwho is also an author and he's
written a book called Watch MeDie.
He's been present at threeexecutions.
His name is Dr Bill Kimberlinand he said he would never
advise a family to seek thedeath penalty because you have
to relive that crime over andover and over during the

appellate process.
And so he says no, just go lifein prison without the
possibility of parole and forgetabout that person.

Speaker 2 (27:23):
There are studies done and again, I don't want to
be preachy about it, but thereare a lot of studies done saying
that when you have a deathpenalty, people like every year,
you know it's the 13th year,it's the 15th year and all you
want is this guy to die becauseyou're being told that that's
And then when the person isexecuted, there's this feeling
of you know that didn't helpanything, didn't bring my loved
one back, it didn't make me feelany better, didn't you know?

I'm not saying you feel sorryfor the guy, it's just that you,
you hold that out as somethingthat is going to help you and it
just doesn't for the most part.
And you know a lot of victims'families now don't want the
death penalty.
You know, not on my watch.
I don't want this.
I don't want you to seek thedeath penalty and you know if it
can eliminate a trial.

You see a lot of victims'families say you know what?
Put that guy in jail, that's hewill never do it again.
I don't have to relive it, likeyou said, or deal with all
these appeals.
And again, I can't tell avictim what is going to make
them feel good.
You just can't.
But I think.

Speaker 1 (28:26):
I think we're heading away from the death penalty to
some extent.
You say it's actually cheaperto house somebody in prison for
life without parole than it isto execute them.
Do you know?
You said $5 million earlier.
Do you know what the costdifferential is?

Speaker 2 (28:38):
It depends on the state and it depends on the
Gacy's case they had a lot moremoney involved just because of
his notoriety.
But like, if you look, but ifyou research it, even the people
who believe in the deathpenalty will understand that
it's more expensive to execute.
You get more trial lawyers, youget more trial forensic people,

experts, you get more appealsand the lawyers involved in
every step of the way theprosecution and the defense and
even the method of execution.
I just read in Idaho they'regetting ready to spend $750,000
to build a firing squad chamber.
You know, I say take that moneyand get some more pedophiles
off the street.
You know why are we doing this,why are we spending all this

And there have been states thatjust abolish it because it's
too expensive.
And then then you know the ideabeing use that for social
services, use it to prosecutemore people, keep people in
prison longer that need to be inI I I think that if you do the
research, you'll see that I'mright about that.

Speaker 1 (29:41):
You say that the death penalty is not a deterrent
to crime.

Speaker 2 (29:44):
It isn't and that that is a proven fact.
And I think anyone who hasstudied this issue will see that
In fact the places where wehave most murders are the places
where we have the most deathpenalties.
So it doesn't deter.
And they've done studies overand over about this.
Where they've implemented thedeath penalty and did crime go
Did murders go down?
Because people don't say tothemselves, hmm, should I kill

somebody because I'm going toget the death penalty as opposed
to life in prison?
They just don't.
They're crimes of passion forthe most part, or compulsion
crimes, like Gacy, so nobodythinks about that.
Why would Ted Bundy take aflight to Florida to start
committing more crimes when thatplace is?
You know Florida loves thedeath penalty, so it just
doesn't deter.

Speaker 1 (30:30):
What if we die, executed somebody faster than
what the wheels of justice moveright now?
Would that?
Would that make others changetheir change, their method of
You know, instead of like whatyou say, you know, nobody wakes
up and says, oh, I'm going tokill somebody, but wait, I
better not because I might getkilled.

Well, geez, casey spent 14years on death row and you know
there's people on death row thathave been there for 30 years

Speaker 2 (30:57):
Yeah, I hear that argument a lot, that if you're
going to have capital punishment, it should be swift.
You know I think, hey, ifcapital punishment worked, I
might change my mind.
You know, if it eliminatedmurders, if it stopped people
from doing these things, if itchanged the way people thought

about crime, you know, I mightjust say I don't like it.
It rubs me the wrong waymorally.
But you know, if it works, itworks.
Maybe I'm going to make that.
It just doesn't.
People do not think, Becauseit's not like the difference
between being executed andwalking free.
It's the difference betweenbeing executed and being in
prison for life.
People just don't reason thatout, they don't talk about that.

I mean, you know how?
About this?
Why don't we have publicexecutions where we use the
Because that's the leastpainful way to do it, but it's
disgusting and nobody would liketo see that.
But if we're going to use itand if we're going to try to
deter people from committingcrimes, maybe that's what we do.
I don't think our country canstand that.
I don't think we could stomachwatching that.
I think it's barbaric.

But if you want to deter, let'sdo that.

Speaker 1 (32:03):
I don't think I would watch it.

Speaker 2 (32:05):
No, I couldn't stomach it.

Speaker 1 (32:07):
I couldn't stomach it .
No, you actually have one ofGacy's paintings.

Speaker 2 (32:13):
I have three of them.

Speaker 1 (32:14):
Three Are you stunned at the amount of money those
things could bring in?

Speaker 2 (32:20):
I, you know, after the execution I didn't know what
to do with them.
They were like face down on mybasement floor, so they're not
in very good shape, they'rereally ugly and they're really
kind of creepy.
But yeah, I used to check on,you know, the various sites.
Yeah, people are buying thesethings up and I've been
approached to you know, I justcan't make money on it, but I

also can't throw them away and Idon't know where they're going
to end up.

Speaker 1 (32:45):
Are they?
Are they have clowns?

Speaker 2 (32:47):
I have one that's a clown.

Speaker 1 (32:48):
Yeah, cause.
Pogo was his alter ego.

Speaker 2 (32:51):
Yes, I and Gacy gave me that for my birthday, and
then he gave me a seascape whichwas really ugly, and then later
he gave me a skull clown, so itwas this skull with a clown's
hat on it.

Speaker 1 (33:06):
Have you ever had anybody?

Speaker 2 (33:07):
I don't even think Goodwill would do that.

Speaker 1 (33:10):
Really, have you ever had a psychologist?
Psychoanalyze those paintings.

Speaker 2 (33:18):
No, I don't think.
I don't think it's hard to dothat.
Yeah, I think that Gacy and Ido talk about him being a clown
and dressing up as a clown, andI do think there was something
psychological about that.
I think that he liked to hidethat dark side of him and I
think he liked to take away whohe was and be somebody else and

get away with things, because healways used to say clowns get
away with murder, and I think hereally believed that he could.
He can kind of.
You know, when people are inmasquerade parties, they do
things that they would normallynever do because they're behind
a mask.
That's sort of what thementality was with Gacy, I
believe that.

Speaker 1 (33:54):
Killing Time with John Wayne Gacy Gacy, the most
prolific serial killer that weknow of in America 33 boys and
men killed and many of themburied underneath his house.
In the book Killing Time withJohn Wayne Gacy, Karen Conte,
the author and his death rowappellate attorney, one of them,
you posit an interesting theoryabout accomplices.

Speaker 2 (34:16):
Yes, I truly believe that Gacy didn't kill all of
those boys.
He killed many of them, most ofthem.
But Gacy kept telling us, goand get my business records from
the evidence locker because itwill show that I was out of town
during the time that several ofthese boys were deemed to have
gone missing.
And I thought this is just youknow, BS right, but we did it.

We went and got those recordsand we looked and Gacy kept
meticulous, almost neuroticrecords with receipts for hotels
and he did all these jobs outof town and he had the contracts
and he had the dates and histravel and the tolls and
And sure enough, we matched itup with six or seven of the boys

and even if you fudge a fewdates on either side, that they
went missing.
Gacy probably didn't do thesemurders and he had two young men
living with him at the time whotestified at trial that they
dug the trenches under the crawlspace in the crawl space.
But it doesn't make sense thatthey wouldn't have known what he
was doing and it wouldn't havemade sense that they didn't put

those bodies down there, becauseGacy was very portly and I just
can't see him lifting up a deadhuman being and bringing them
into this crawl space and layingthem, you know, side by side.
The other thing that I talkabout is that there was at least
one victim who got away, whotold the police that there were

more than one personperpetrating the sex acts and
perpetrating the torture.
So I think that was a house ofhorror.
I think there are otherperpetrators who walked free.

Speaker 1 (35:55):
Was he grooming those two that were living with him?
How did he not kill them?

Speaker 2 (36:00):
Yeah, I think he was grooming them and there's a new
book called Serial KillersApprentice.
And he had two young men whowere not evil human beings but
they were just kids who kind ofcame from sad backgrounds, who
didn't have a lot of self-esteem.
He gave them money, he gavethem drugs, alcohol, whatever,

and they would go out andprocure young men and help with
the crimes and help dispose ofthe bodies.
And yes, I think it's veryparallel that he was grooming
these boys to help him.
And you know, I don't know whythey never prosecuted them.
I think they wanted to make ittie it up with a nice bow.
You know Gacy's the mostprolific serial killer at the
You know, we want to just put afeather in our cap and get this

done and I do think that thosetwo young men were guilty of

Speaker 1 (36:50):
You say that Gacy was the most prolific serial killer
at the time.
At the time, I said allegedlythe most, because we know about,
uh, henry Lee Lucas, and youactually brought him up to John.
Wayne Gacy.

Speaker 2 (37:02):
Yeah, I, you know Henry Lee Lucas.
I don't know how many weretagged to him, like 200 or
But uh, gacy was a little angrywhen I said hey, you know,
henry Lee is kind of is ispulling up in front of you and
he said oh, karen, how can yousay that?
And he was angry.
He was like Henry Lee Lewis, hedidn't kill all those people.

Oh, the prosecution is justputting wants to close cases.
He didn't kill all those people.
So he, we had a little argumentabout that.
I probably agree with him onthat.
But I think the Green Riverkiller had more victims, if I'm
not mistaken.

Speaker 1 (37:36):
Well, now we know about Samuel Little.
Samuel Little yeah he's deadnow, but yeah, I think he was up
to 70 is what I think they havehis count at, and we talk about
this like runs batted in in abaseball game.
You know, oh, he had 70, he had30.
What is our fascination withserial killers?

Speaker 2 (37:56):
I think that we are fascinated by the best of the
best and the worst of the worst.
I think that we like to watchthe Olympics because we see
these athletes who are justdoing unbelievable things and
breaking records that humanbeings have made over the years,
and so we're fascinated by that.
We're also fascinated by evil,like how does a person get to be

that way?
What is it like?
I mean, people are fascinatedby evil.
Like, how does a person get tobe that way?
What is it like?
I mean, if people arefascinated by it?
I also think they say thatwomen are more fascinated by it
because they they use it in away to sort of protect
They, they feel like, if theywatch these shows or they
understand a killer or a rapist,that they can maybe protect
themselves from that.
I think it's an interestingtheory, but I just think this is

not new.
I mean, we have been obsessedwith crime, you know, from the
Ripper days and way before that,and I think we like to try to
solve crimes.
I think that's part of thispodcast world where we're
solving crimes, I think.
You know.
I think it's just human nature,curiosity, right.

Speaker 3 (38:57):

Speaker 2 (38:57):
We all have that innate curiosity and I think
there are some people who mayhave a dark side who think like,
oh, could I ever be that bad?
I don't feel that way because Idon't think I have that dark
side, but I think some people do.

Speaker 1 (39:09):
I believe there are a lot of people that do you know,
and a lot of people, but wealso have the mechanism of a
conscience and we also have themechanism of a conscience and we
also have the mechanism ofself-control.
And that side of Gacy was not,it wasn't there.

Speaker 2 (39:26):
No, it wasn't there.

Speaker 1 (39:27):
Did he talk about?
Did he talk about how he feltafter his first kill?

Speaker 2 (39:31):
See, what you have to understand is he confessed at
first, like when I was in highschool when he was first
arrested, but then he developedthis idea that he didn't kill
anyone except the first one whohe killed in self-defense, and
he talked about how this guy wasa hooker and he tried to come
at him and take his money with aknife.
So he turned the knife on himand he killed him.

Speaker 3 (39:52):
Tim McCoy was the first one, and Tim McCoy's name
wasn't put on him until 1988.
Prior to that, he was known asUnknown Number Nine and he was
buried by me in the crawl space.
That's the only knowledge thatI have of it.
What was the circumstances ofthat?
He was killed in the house inself-defense, and who killed him

Then I stabbed him.
Yeah, and it was an house inself-defense.
And who killed him?
Then I stabbed him.
Yeah, and it was an issue ofself-defense.
Was he in the process ofassaulting you or what?
He was coming at me with aknife.
I just took the knife away andtwisted it in his hand, and
that's what killed him.

Speaker 2 (40:31):
Well, I think that's BS.
So that's what Gacy said hedidn't come to grips with any of
this stuff.

Speaker 1 (40:38):
Why didn't an insanity plea work?

Speaker 2 (40:40):
Oh, because it hardly ever works.
In Illinois, the law is thatyou have to suffer from a mental
illness or disorder, but alsothat that disorder or mental
illness has to cause you to notknow what's right or wrong.
I'm going to just paraphrasethat, and that's the hard part,
because when you hide a body,you know it's wrong.

You know, I mean it doesn't.
This insanity defense doesn'twork unless you're completely
psychotic and you're.
You're seeing purple cows orsomething, because Gacy clearly
knew what he was doing was wrong.

Speaker 1 (41:14):
Killing time with John Wayne Gacy.
The book is out now.
You can get it on amazoncom.
Karen Conte is my guest.
Gacy lives.
He walks into your office rightnow.
What do you say to him?

Speaker 2 (41:23):
I mean, if he walked in I would probably joke with

Speaker 1 (41:26):

Speaker 2 (41:26):
I probably would say how are you doing, John?
You know, he and I had apleasant, you know, back and
I found him to be intelligent,I found him to be humorous, I
found him to be human in a lotof ways.
But then he had this side ofhim that was pure evil and it's
hard to describe that.
And people are going to say,people think that anyone who

does these things they're alwaysevil.
But if they were always evilthey wouldn't get away with it.
So that's why he walks among us, acting in a way that's
perfectly acceptable, until hedoesn't.
So I would just exchangepleasantries with him probably.

Speaker 1 (42:07):
So the time that you spent defending Gacy and his
final appeal of death row, hedoes get executed Did you lose?

Speaker 2 (42:17):
I felt like I lost.
You know I took my jobseriously, like I do with every
single client for everything Ido.
I zealously advocated for him,as did the other lawyers on the
We lost sleep, we lost clients,we donated our time and money
to this cause.
You know, probably $250,000worth, something like that.

So, yeah, we lost, and I didn'texpect to win, but it was still
a loss.
And even more than just losingas a lawyer, I just felt the
loss of a human being.
And it wasn't because I was soconnected with Gacy but I talk
about in my book when we wereleaving the area where he was

getting ready to be taken to thedeath chamber and in rushes,
all his family, his family, hisnephews, neighbors who he lived
next to for years, politicalpeople, lawyers that he had over
the years and many of them weresobbing and saying goodbye to
him and they were like they knewwhat he did, but yet they

unconditionally loved him.
I said, john, did you do this?
How do you love somebody that'sso evil?
My name is Karen Kuzma.
My brother was John Wayne Gacy.
So when you see that, it's justhard.
It's just hard to know that weare doing that to somebody, just
let him in jail, put him away,don't listen to him, but killing

It just seemed wrong and itwill always seem wrong to me.

Speaker 1 (43:48):
You said you did it pro bono, you lost about
It ended up not going your way.

Speaker 2 (43:54):
Waste of time up not going your way.
Waste of time.
No, no, I was able to speak outagainst it.
I'm proud that I was able to dothat.
I learned a lot of lessonsduring that seven months and
that's one of the things I thinkmay be uplifting to people who
read my book, because I'mlooking back at my career over
30 years after the execution andsome of the good things that

have happened to me are directlyrelated to having represented
Like, for instance, I did a lotof media appearances being
interviewed about the deathpenalty in Gacy.
As a result, I became adept attalking to the press.
I was given a radio show.
I've had radio shows for 30years in Chicago.
My law professor came up toChicago and gave me a law
professorship to teach the deathpenalty after I took on one

case and lost it.
I've been a law professor for20, 25 years.
So a lot of and I think nowclients say, oh, she represented
She must be tough.
Not that I'm that's true orfalse or that I'm a better
lawyer because I representedGacy, but that's appearance that
we have.
It's the Marsha Clark thing.
It's like here.

She handled the OJ Simpson case.
Maybe she should have won thatcase Maybe not.
She got a million-dollar bookdeal and she's got a show and
she's doing really well.
Good for you, marsha.
But that doesn't mean you're abetter lawyer or a worse lawyer.
It's just that you get thisreputation, having been
associated with somebody, reallybad.

Speaker 1 (45:17):
Oh, it's such a high profile case.
Obviously you're.
Yeah, obviously that's going tohelp make a name.
That kind of answers myquestion, though representing
Gacy, make you or cost you?

Speaker 2 (45:30):
I think it made me.

Speaker 1 (45:32):

Speaker 2 (45:33):
I think, I think it enhanced me.

Speaker 3 (45:36):
There you go.

Speaker 2 (45:36):
I think that's probably a better way to say it.
I think I had a lot of thosequalities, those good qualities,
but as a young lawyer, you knowyou're always, when you're in
your 20s you're just not assecure and not as confident as
you become later.
And I think that this maturedme very quickly as a lawyer, as
a human being, as you knowalmost every aspect of my life.

So I think it really enhancedme.
It put me, as you say, in thespotlight and it allowed me to
flourish quicker than I probablywould have flourished without
the representation.

Speaker 1 (46:11):
Well, as an outsider looking in, I don't think a lot
of people could have done whatyou did.
I don't think a lot of peoplecould have done what you did.
I don't think a lot of peoplecould have handled the scrutiny,
handled the negativity thatcame their way.
So even before you took thatcase, Karen Conte, I think you
already had that toughness inyou.

Speaker 2 (46:29):
Well, thank you, and I have to think about that.

Speaker 1 (46:32):
but maybe you're right.
Final question what's thelesson we learned from John
Wayne Gacy and his story?

Speaker 2 (46:39):
I think the lesson is that there are bad people in
this world and that we all haveto be very, very careful.
I think a lesson could be thatwe need to look at people's
upbringings and we need to lookand see if there are warning
signs along the way.
And this was a different timeand place.
Okay, so the seventies wedidn't know, we didn't have the

databases, we didn't know aboutpedophiles as much as we do now
and serial killers.
But we we have to take seriousthe victims cries for help and
there were so many along the wayand so many warning signs
victims running out of the househorribly damaged by Gacy, and
charges being brought, chargesbeing dropped.
You know children and young mengoing to get a job with Gacy

and then they disappear and Gacygets questioned and they blow
it off.
So you know, I think we need toreally pay attention to these
warning signs.
And you know, at some pointthere was a point of no return
with Gacy.
And you know, at some pointthere was a point of no return
with Gacy.
I don't know when that was, butyou know, hopefully in the
future we may be able to predictthese kind of things and maybe

stop a person from becoming that?
I would hope.

Speaker 1 (47:46):
Well, we have a pretty good track record now
since 9-11 of stopping terroristattacks, so hopefully, maybe
one day you're right that we canfind these abnormalities in
society and deal with them andget them off the streets before
somebody before somebody losestheir life, exactly.
Karen, thank you so much forjoining me, congratulations on
all your success and in KillingTime with John Wayne Gacy.

It's a great read If you want aquick read, if you want
interesting stuff and you wantbehind the scenes stuff, because
Gacy was very forthcoming withyou that he didn't tell things
to other people.
So it's fascinating and thankyou for sharing your story with

Speaker 2 (48:23):
Thank you, kevin, and if people want to go to my
website, they can sign up, forI'm doing some webinars and book
So, even if you're in differentstates, it's karencontecom and
I'm happy to share that with you.

Speaker 1 (48:35):
It absolutely is a fascinating read.
It's written in a veryreader-friendly style.
Killing Time with John WayneGacy Defending America's Most
Evil Serial Killer on Death Row.
My thanks to Karen Conte fortaking time out of her busy
Believe me, she is very busypromoting the book a lot of
media outlets, not to mentionthe cases that she's still
working, and also her own radioshow, which airs for the past 30

years in Chicago.
But anyway, my thanks to KarenConte for joining me and my
thanks to you for listening.
The Fuzzy Mike is hosted andproduced by Kevin Kline,
production elements by ZachSheesh at the Radio Farm
P-H-A-R-M, and social mediadirector is Trish Kline.
Don't forget to like, subscribe, follow, share, all that kind

of stuff.
And thank you again for joiningme on this episode of the Fuzzy
See you next Tuesday.
That's it for the Fuzzy Mike.
Thank you.
The Fuzzy Mike with Kevin Klein.
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