JOLIET - It was a beautiful day for an execution.
The nearly cloudless skies over Stateville Correctional Center and the
gentle spring winds gave no sign of the fate that awaited John Wayne Gacy.
Just outside the walls of the prison, yellow, blue and red striped tents
were erected for the media hordes. The colors were more than appropriate
considering the circuslike atmosphere.
Reporters, camera operators, producers and photographers from all over the
country crowded under the tents and in their cars. They applied make-up, talked
under pine trees on cellular phones and swarmed anybody who looked like they
might be a somebody.
What seemed to be a thousand line feeds and extension cords snaked through
the grass past picnicking reporters to a battalion of 20 satellite dishes and
vans. An uninformed observer might have mistaken the scene for the search for
But life was not the story Monday.
A handful of protesters kept a late-night candlelight vigil at the prison to
express their outrage at the execution, outnumbered by hundreds of people
cheering the execution on.
The scene outside the prison was as raucous as a high school football game,
with death penalty advocates cheering, clapping and chanting such slogans as
"Kill the clown" and "Go to hell."
When 12:01 a.m. passed, the crowd sung "Na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, goodbye"
followed by chants of "We want the body."
The bolder of the group took to blowing out protesters' candles.
Though the death penalty protesters were far outnumbered, they stood firm to
Among them was Bill Pelke of Portage, whose grandmother, Ruth Pelke, was
murdered in 1985 in her Gary home by Paula Cooper. Cooper was sentenced to
death at age 16 in a case that drew international attention, but her sentence
was later commuted to life in prison.
Pelke was surrounded by screaming, waving throngs of Gacy haters. He clung
to a fencepost and closed his eyes.
"It's very sad. We do live in a vengeful society," he said. "The reason a
lot of people want the death penalty tonight is purely a matter of revenge.
"The death penalty has nothing to do with bringing justice to the
situation," Pelke said. "It does no healing. The cycle of violence should stop.
"John Gacy is a very sick man, and as a society we shouldn't want to kill
the sickest of our citizens."
Deby Hope-Asta of Oak Brook, a student at Bethany Seminary, was one of the
small group holding candles to protest the execution.
"I believe it's important we make a stand to let the state know how we
feel," she said. "I don't believe the state has the right to take a life, and
that when the state takes a life, it becomes a killer ... I don't want the
state killing in my name."
Rick Beallis, 46, of Aurora wore a T-shirt with a large picture of a clown
and the message "No tears for the clown."
"I knew there were going to be a lot of these Amnesty USA people, and I
think they ought to know how the public really feels," he said. "We're true
Americans, not candle toters."
Josh Emanuel, 17, a senior at Downers Grove North High School, wore a large,
multicolored wig. "I hate Gacy, and I've hated him since I was 8 years old," he
said. "I have no qualms about having the state execute him. I feel a touch of
remorse because he was a human being once. But when he killed that first
person, he relinquished his right to human dignity and honor."
Many residents interviewed at nearby gas stations and pubs said they also
were glad Gacy's time was finally up.
One local bar, the Fiddler's Green, even held a John Wayne Gacy execution
party, complete with clown.
"They should have done it a long time ago," said Joliet resident Mark
Chambers. He said he wished Gacy could "suffer a little bit more."
Indeed, a number of residents said death by lethal injection was too good
"He deserves worse ... He's got to be the sickest man on earth," said Kelli
Loden, a Joliet homemaker. "One of my best friends tells me that I'm morbid.
But I think of the families that lost their sons. I have a 4-year-old - and to
think that could have been him."
Merle Widner, a retired Joliet resident, said he doesn't buy the argument
that the death penalty does not deter crime.
"It's a proven fact. Once you execute somebody for murder, they don't do it
again," Widner said. "Why spend all the money keeping him alive? Bury him. Or
feed him to the fish. Make dog feed out of him, for all I care."
Only hours before Gacy was to be executed, a lawyer who had just spoken to
him said Gacy continued to believe he would cheat death.
"His attitude is he isn't going to die. He refuses to change that view,"
said Greg Adamski. "I don't think he understands the reality of what he's
facing. I don't think he can discern that he's about to be executed."
John Greenlees, another Gacy attorney, spent the day fighting for his
client's life. He was at a Speedway gas station pay phone when he was informed
that the U.S. Supreme Court had refused to stay the execution.
"We're disappointed, obviously," he said. "It was probably his last
Greenlees said he was upset about the Illinois Department of Corrections'
decision to prohibit Gacy from having any visitors after 6 p.m. Monday.
"The only communication he is going to have is with the people who are going
to kill him," he said. "I think it's really cold."
When asked of his feelings on Gacy's death, Greenlees paused.
"John asked us not to make any public comments about how we feel about his
execution," he said. "I think he just wanted the spectacle to end."