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Victims' kin applaud Gacy death sentence

By United Press International

CHICAGO -- Applause and cheers resounded through the courtroom for the jury's sentence of John Wayne Gacy: death in the electric chair for the sex murders of 33 young men and boys.

"I'd be willing to pull the switch," said Harold Piest, the father of the last of Gacy's victims, Robert Piest, who was 15 when he disappeared in late 1978. "Of all the families involved, I'll be the first to volunteer."

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Gacy, however, showed no emotion Thursday as the jury sentenced him to die June 2 for more murders than anyone in U.S. history.

He told his attorneys his trial was just "round one." His execution will, in fact, be delayed perhaps for a year or more by appeals.

"Gacy deserves what he got," said Karie Betlej. sister of victim Richard Johnson. She said she opposed the death penalty before her brother disappeared but changed her mind after meeting other victims' families whom she called the "living victims."

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"It was too much. It was just too much," she said. "We all have nightmares and we have to live with the way they died. If Gacy didn't get the death penalty, then who would?"

The prosecution during Gacy's five-week trial presented evidence showing Gacy lured his young victims to his home with promises of jobs, drugs or money. He then "conned" them into handcuffs and killed them with a complicated "rope trick" that left them writhing in convulsions before their death.

The corpses of most of his victims were buried in a fetid, worm-infested crawl space under Gacy's suburban house. Four other bodies were found floating in rivers.

Gacy's attorney Sam Amirante said there was no way of knowing how long the appeals process would stretch. He noted, however, Illinois law provides for an automatic appeal of all death penalties to the state Supreme Court.

Challenges to the death penalty law itself could drag the process out still longer. The Illinois Supreme Court already has upheld one part of the statute. But that case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and other challenges to the law are expected.

No one has yet been executed under the statute, which has been in effect nearly three years.

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After the sentence was imposed, Amirante noted, "Gacy talked about this being round one."

The jury of seven men and five women took two hours and 15 minutes to sentence Gacy to death. That was only slightly longer than the hour and 55 minutes the same panel needed Wednesday to find Gacy guilty, rejecting defense arguments he was an insane man compelled to kill.

Jury foreman Ronald Beaver said as many as nine jurors had reservations about the death penalty when the panel began its deliberations on the question. He said they were won over, one by one, to believe Gacy's crimes deserved the ultimate penalty.

The victims' families, some of whom broke into applause and cheers when the sentence recommendation "was read, praised the jury's decision.

"I have no sympathy for him," said Eugenia . Godak, mother of victim Gregory Godzik, who was 17 when he disappeared in 1976. "He's done too much."

Ken Piest, 26, Robert's brother, said he was pleased with the sentence but, "This is not going to change anything. My brother's not coming back. I've got to live with this."

Prosecutor Terry Sullivan said he felt a sense of "hollow satisfaction."

"Justice has been done," he said. "No other person that walked this earth has ever deserved the death penalty more."

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"This was the ultimate crime," said prosecutor Robert Egan, "and Gacy received the ultimate sentence."

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