Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Gary Heidnik: To Hell and Back

Crazy or What?


On April 23 1987, Heidnik appeared in court for the first time since his arrest. Beside him sat his counsel, Charles "Chuck" Peruto. Heidnik had selected Peruto, an experienced, sharp-minded defense attorney, based on his reputation for defending sensational cases. The reason for the appearance was to officially determine if the prosecution had the "probable cause" to hold Gary Heidnik for the crimes he had been charged with. For Assistant District Attorney Charles Gallagher, the preliminary hearing was a mere formality as he presented the state's case against Gary Heidnik. Heidnik stood charged with murder, kidnapping, rape, aggravated assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent exposure, false imprisonment, unlawful restraint, simple assault, indecent assault and other associated offenses.

The most damning evidence against Heidnik was the testimony of the captives themselves. The first to be called was Lisa, who described in minute detail how Gary Heidnik had chained, beaten and raped her. Next to give evidence was Josefina. In a clear and confident voice, she related her story from the time she was picked up in Heidnik's Cadillac until the time she was released. She was particularly graphic in her description of Sandra Lindsay's death and the electrocution murder of Deborah Dudley, particularly when she admitted that it had been she who had pushed the power cord into the pit. Peruto later cross examined Josefina and accused her of instigating many of the beatings and the electrocution of Dudley. When Lisa was cross examined, she too accused Josefina of being Heidnik's willing partner in his acts of death and depravity, however her evidence was refuted when Jacquelyn took the stand and told the court that Josefina only did Heidnik's bidding when she was under threat of death or punishment.

The proceedings ended with Dr. Paul Hoyer of the county medical examiner's office giving evidence regarding the body parts and other human remains found in Heidnik's kitchen. In a hushed court room Dr Hoyer read out the items found like a gruesome shopping list — two forearms, one upper arm, two knees and two segments of thigh, all cut with a saw, the tissue, muscle and skin still attached. In all, twenty-four pounds of human remains were found carefully wrapped and stored in Gary Heidnik's refrigerator. Gary Heidnik was indicted and held for trial.

The trial began on June 20, 1988 in front of a packed courtroom. From the outset, as Charles Gallagher outlined the prosecution's case in all its gory detail, Chuck Peruto knew what his defense was going to be, he was going to plead his client guilty on all charges but was going to try and prove that Gary Heidnik was certifiably insane.

If the prosecution's case had been strong at the pre-trial hearing, at the trial itself, it seemed even stronger. With both sides opening statements having taken only a few minutes, Charles Gallagher began calling his witnesses to the stand. For two days, the jury of six whites and six blacks, heard testimony from the captives themselves, their families, the police and the medical examiners. As the judge excused the last of the prosecution's witnesses, Chuck Peruto requested that the charge of first-degree murder be removed on the grounds that intent to kill had not been proven. Judge Lynne Abraham's reply was one that Peruto would become familiar with during the trial, "overruled."

Chuck Peruto's defense was centred around two men, Heidnik's psychiatrist, Dr Clancy McKenzie and psychologist Jack Apsche. Unfortunately for Peruto, and Heidnik, when he called his first witness to the stand, he found that McKenzie had his own agenda. McKenzie, who had spent a total of one hundred hours with Heidnik, refused to answer direct questions, preferring instead to launch into intellectual discussion on schizophrenia and other associated mental conditions, which at times completely confused the jury. Eventually, Peruto managed to direct McKenzie to give his opinion on the most important aspect of an insanity defense. At the time of the offenses, did Gary Heidnik know the difference between right and wrong? McKenzie responded that Heidnik did not know the difference.

Peruto then asked the judge to instruct the jury to consider the possibility that Josefina was actually an accomplice of Gary Heidnik's. Judge Abraham answered that she would be prepared to do so as long as he understood that it would indicate to the jury that if Heidnik was capable of enlisting the aid of an accomplice then he was clearly not insane. Wisely, Peruto decided not to pursue the point. The following day, the defense case received another setback when Judge Abraham refused to admit most of Jack Apsche's testimony on Heidnik's mental history, ruling it inadmissible. Peruto was caught completely off guard by the ruling as most of his insanity defense was based on the testimonies of Apsche and McKenzie but in a short time, McKenzie had undermined his own credibility and Apsche was not allowed to table the results of weeks of painstaking research into Heidnik's medical history, the details of which Peruto believed would prove that his client had been insane for most of his adult life.

Peruto then played his final card by calling Dr. Kenneth Kool, another psychiatrist. Kool was able to give part of his professional opinion regarding Heidnik's sanity but in a closed session, Abraham ruled that his testimony was "confusing the jury" and ruled that most of it be stricken. Kool also had his testimony damaged in cross examination when he admitted that he had only spent twenty minutes with Heidnik and had "left in frustration," when Heidnik refused to talk to him. When Gallagher asked what he had based his analysis on, he admitted that he had relied on Heidnik's previous medical history.

Tracy Lomax, left, and Carolyn Johnson,  remember victims  Sandy and Deborah at the trial (AP)
Tracy Lomax, left, and
Carolyn Johnson,
remember victims Sandy
and Deborah at the trial

As a parting shot at the already damaged defense case, Gallagher called an additional witness, Robert Kirkpatrick, Heidnik's broker at Merrill Lynch. Kirkpatrick gave evidence that the Gary Heidnik he knew was "an astute investor who knew exactly what he was doing." For the next few days Peruto and Gallagher called additional witnesses to prove and disprove each other's arguments until there were no more witnesses to call and they began their final summations. The following day was taken up with Judge Abraham instructing the jury on the technicalities of the various degrees of murder and other legalities to help them reach a verdict.

Finally on June 30 1988, after sixteen hours of deliberation over two-and-a-half days, the jury was ready. As Betty Ann Bennett, the jury foreperson, stood to read their verdict, Chuck Peruto was confident that his client would be found guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder and thereby escape the death penalty. His hopes were dashed, however when Bennett began reading the verdict.

"For the murder of Deborah Dudley, guilty in the first degree. For the murder of Sandra Lindsay, guilty in the first degree." And so the list went on. By the time Bennett had finished, Heidnik stood convicted on eighteen charges. Two counts of first-degree murder, five counts of rape, six counts of kidnapping, four counts of aggravated assault and one count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.

Gary Heidnik in court
Gary Heidnik in court

With the verdicts announced, Judge Abraham retired the jury until nine a.m. the following day when the prosecution and defense attorneys would have the chance to address the jury before the sentence was decided. By 12:15 p.m. the next day, the jury had made a unanimous decision; Gary Heidnik should be sentenced to death for the murders of Deborah Dudley and Sandra Lindsay. Just as he had throughout the trial, Heidnik showed no sign of emotion when the sentence was read.


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