Retired Cook County Associate Judge Sam L. Amirante (center), pictured here during jury deliberations while defending serial killer John Wayne Gacy in his 1980 trial, said he will never forget the night Gacy came to his office and  told him he killed 34 young men and buried many of them in the crawl space of his home in unincorporated Norwood Park Township.
Retired Cook County Associate Judge Sam L. Amirante (center), pictured here during jury deliberations while defending serial killer John Wayne Gacy in his 1980 trial, said he will never forget the night Gacy came to his office and told him he killed 34 young men and buried many of them in the crawl space of his home in unincorporated Norwood Park Township. — The Associated Press

It's been more than three decades, but retired Cook County Associate Judge Sam L. Amirante still remembers the night John Wayne Gacy came to his office and gulped down two coffee cups full of whiskey.

That's because what followed Gacy's quickly downed cocktails was a confession that made Amirante's jaw drop and eventually resulted in one of Cook County's most notorious criminal trials.

"It was the longest night of my life," Amirante said of that late night in 1978 when Gacy told him he killed 34 young men and buried many of them in the crawl space of his home in unincorporated Norwood Park Township.

The confession was startling, he said, but it was magnified by the fact that Gacy was his first client in private practice. He had just left the Cook County public defender's office and had aspirations of becoming a personal-injury lawyer.

Needless to say, he took a different direction after defending Gacy, who, prior to earning the title of serial killer, was known as a Democratic precinct captain and Pogo the Clown, a character he dressed up as at local fundraising events and parties.

Amirante, who is slightly taller than 5 feet, joked that he was 6-foot-4 before taking Gacy's case.

And now, more than a decade after Gacy was put to death for his crimes, Amirante teamed up with lawyer-turned-author Daniel J. "Danny" Broderick to share the story of what it was like to defend Gacy in the new book, "John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster."

The book includes never before seen photos and letters, including some written by Gacy and one piece of hate-mail sent to Amirante, who said he didn't earn many popularity points by defending the most hated man in America at the time.

In the nearly 400-page book, Amirante also revealed details of Gacy's confession, including that Gacy admitted to killing 34 young men, although he was only convicted of murdering 33.

Amirante said while books about Gacy have already been published, he wanted to tell his story because it's different than the other ones out there. It did take him a while, however, to figure out how he wanted to tell it.

"It's a story from the lawyer's view point," he said. "It's a lawyer's book for lawyers."

That's where Broderick's writing skills came into play. Amirante said Broderick, a former lawyer, could explain the details of the case accurately and as an author was able to do it in a way that he believes will keep readers flipping to the next page.

Amirante and Broderick said they were proud that as of last Friday, their book was the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon.com for legal history books, which is the category they hoped to see it succeed in. With several book reviewers calling Broderick's writing something that would make John Grisham and Scott Turow proud, their book is also well ranked in the true crime book category.

"It's a fascinating story," Broderick said, explaining his goal was to write the details of the case in a factual, but interesting way. It took him about a year and a half to write.

He used boxes and boxes of notes, evidence and trial transcripts that Amirante provided to him to pen the book. Broderick said having been in front of juries before helped him write "words surrounded by the color and feeling of what it's like in the courtroom."

Amirante said the book starts off with a prologue that cites John Adams and touches on the crux of his tale: the importance of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

It's something that Amirante said lawyers may understand, but appears to be difficult to comprehend by the dozens and dozens of people who have asked him over the years how he could represent someone who committed such horrible crimes.

"Everyone has the right to counsel," Amirante said. "Lawyers have to be able to take on unpopular causes because the Constitution says everyone has that right."

He said his book is "a 400-page answer to the question I've been getting for years."

Amirante said while Gacy may have been a monster, "I always looked at him as my client."

He said if he had to do it all over again, he might have tried harder to keep Gacy's mouth shut. On the other side, he said he may have put Gacy on the stand, something he believes would have shown the jury he was insane.

Amirante said as a young lawyer, he learned more than he could have ever imagined from one case, let alone his first big case.

He said defending Gacy taught him to be a believer, a lesson that any young lawyer can learn from.

"No matter how much the odds are stacked against you, you have to believe in yourself," he said. "You always have to represent your client with passion and zealously."