Defending a notorious serial killer is no easy task, especially when they are basically your first private client. That was the case for Sam Amirante, who represented infamous "Killer Clown" John Wayne Gacy at trial. Despite wanting to defend the serial murderer, he found Gacy to be a "monster" nevertheless.
Gacy killed at least 33 young men and boys in the 1970s, all while enjoying the reputation as a moderately important pillar of his suburban Chicago community. He ran an ostensibly successful contracting and construction business and was active in local politics. Perhaps most notoriously, he periodically did charity work, dressing up as a children's clown. He basked in this facade, all while cramming body after body into the crawl space under his Des Plaines home.
By late 1978, police were on his trail following the disappearance of 15-year-old Robert Piest. Investigators learned Piest disappeared soon after talking to Gacy about a potential job, and police soon discovered that Gacy was actually out on parole for sexually abusing a teen boy in Iowa a decade earlier. Des Plaines officers began monitoring and following Gacy, working 12-hour shifts in pairs.
As Peacock’s docuseries, “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise” points out, Gacy enlisted Sam Amirante to help him. Amirante was just starting out his own private practice law firm after previously spending a few years working as a pubic defender, NBC Chicago reported in 2011.
"Sam, could you do me a favor?" Gacy asked, according to an extensive 2012 Seattle Post-Intelligencer interview. He told Amirante that the police were harassing him, not yet admitting that they had good reason to be. Soon, however, he admitted to Amirante that he killed Piest and threw him in a nearby river.
Amirante knew Gacy from around town, classifying him as a minor figure in local politics and someone he knew as a man who dressed up as a clown for charity. He needed clients so he agreed to help.
Gacy even confessed to Amirante about the staggering 30-plus murders he'd committed, before he was arrested in late 1978 after police serving a search warrant discovered the makeshift mass grave containing dozens of his victims under his home. Now, Amirante was representing a suspected serial killer.
That being said, Amirante told Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he didn’t hesitate to defend Gacy, despite later describing his former client a “great manipulator” who manages to continue his manipulation “from the grave.”
“The only thing that ever bothered me is that if somebody might have wanted to get John Gacy, I might get in the way of a bullet or something,” he told the outlet.
He also said he regrets how the case affected his family life.
“I've apologized to my two young boys, who are now grown men, and my ex-wife - that's probably why she's my ex-wife,” he said. “I didn't get to spend enough time with them. That bothers me to this day.”
Gacy, who pleaded insanity in the case, was convicted in 1980 and sentenced to death — an execution that was carried out 14 years later after a series of failed appeals. Amirante went on to enjoy a prominent legal career. Eight years after Gacy's sentencing, Amirante was appointed to the bench as an associate judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, according to the Chicago Tribune. He retired in 2005.
He published a memoir of his time as Gacy's lawyer, “John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster” in 2011, along with co-author and lawyer Danny Broderick. The book paints a humanistic and often pathetic account of the killer.
Amirante is still a criminal lawyer in Illinois. He is the head lawyer at Sam L. Amirante and Associates, P.C. Amirante. The site advertises that they represent clients accused of murder.
Oxygen.com's attempts to reach out to him for this story were unsuccessful.
For more on the Gacy case, watch “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise” now on Peacock. You can also catch the first episode of the six-part series on Oxygen on Sunday, April 18 at 12:30 a.m. ET.
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