Unspeakable Times

Lawyers Describe What It's Like To Defend The World's Most Notorious Killers  

Jessika M. Thomas
113.7k views 10 items

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a serial killer's lawyer? Do those representatives of the law ever get disgusted by their clients? Are they somehow able to remain neutral while defending some of the worst people who have ever lived? Is it possible that the lawyers secretly wish that their clients won't get off? It's entirely possible that they do but whether their respective clients are guilty or not, lawyers must represent them.

The following list offers insight about lawyers who've defend serial killers and what they had to say about the cases. While all the attorneys tend to agree that the circumstances were mentally exhausting, some seem to have faired worse than others. The man who defended Aileen Wuornos actually said that his life was ruined as a result of the case. Still, some others preferred to look at the positive aspects of working with notorious criminals. One man who represented John Wayne Gacy believed that the case had a positive impact on his life.

As long as depraved men and women kill, defense attorneys will have jobs. The exceptionally good attorneys will even land some surprising acquittals. None of the guilty parties on this list were acquitted but read on to learn about the lawyers who defended them.

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Ted Bundy is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Lawyers Describe What It's Like To Defend The World's Most Notorious Killers
Photo:  Mugshot/Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office

Throughout the '70s and '80s, John Henry Browne served as Ted Bundy's lawyer. Bundy, who confessed to the murder of 30 people but is suspected to have killed 100, was executed for his crimes on February 9, 1978 but Browne has spoken at length about defending the man, attending public speaking engagements and writing about the case in his memoir, Sympathy for the Devil. In regards to defending Bundy, Browne has stated:

I usually have some emotional engagement with clients, but Ted Bundy was a perfect example of someone born evil. I had no compassion for him. But I did want to save him from the death penalty. He was, at times, smart and handsome. To sit down and talk to him... 

Ted did tell me something that showed he was 2% not sociopath. He said, 'John, I want to be a good person, I'm just not.'

Robert Pickton is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Lawyers Describe What It's Like To Defend The World's Most Notorious Killers
Photo: Tonya D Flores Ent/YouTube

Peter Ritchie was the lead defense lawyer for serial killer Robert Pickton, the Canadian pig farmer responsible for the deaths of at least 26 women. Ritchie worked as Pickton's lawyer during the six-year trial that began in 2007. Ultimately, Pickton was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. During that time, the attorney received a lot of hateful telephone calls for defending Pickton but he refused to allow negativity to affect him. He said

We just are there to do our jobs and advocate our case to the best for our client. We're not there to act as public relations officers for our client. We're there to assiduously pursue his defense and do it in the highest ethical manner possible.

John Wayne Gacy is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Lawyers Describe What It's Like To Defend The World's Most Notorious Killers
Photo:  Mugshot/Des Plaines Police Department

In 1978, Sam Amirante provided legal counsel for serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Amirante and Gacy knew one another from the Norwood Park political circle before Gacy was arrested and later known as the "Killer Clown" responsible for the murders of at least 33 victims. In fact, Gacy had hired Amirante for other legal matters and Gacy was Amirante's first client when he opened up his own law practice.

Amirante describes defending Gacy as a pretty stressful time in his life, mentioning that both he and his family received several death threats, but that it wasn't all bad. Amirante has said that his work with Gacy made him a more compassionate person and that it inspired him to get a law passed with a program he named the  I-Search, which requires police to immediately search for missing children instead of having to wait for three days. 

When Amirante was asked whether or not he felt Gacy deserved the death penalty, he responded, "Probably, but he shouldn't have been sentenced to death. They could have studied him, and find out why he did what he did so this doesn't happen again."

Gary Ridgway is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Lawyers Describe What It's Like To Defend The World's Most Notorious Killers
Photo:  Mugshot/Washington Department of Corrections

In November 2001, Mark Prothero was assigned to "Green River Killer" Gary Ridgway's case. Ridgway was convicted of 49 murders but has confessed to killing 71 women. When Prothero took over Ridgway's case, he was completely consumed by it and was in daily contact with the killer for two years.

Despite being the one person who Ridgway initially confessed all his crimes to in grisly detail, Prothero did not think Ridgway was a bad person. He said

As a defense attorney, you have to distinguish between sickness and bad behavior. Basically, people aren't evil. I try to find good in them and work with that. Some people are just really bad people. But Gary was not one of them. On the surface, at least, no one would have known he was a killer. He was one of the nicest, most respectful people. The monster part of him was completely hidden.

Even though the trial ended and Ridgway received a life sentence, the two men are still in contact. Prothero even keeps a recent prison photograph of Ridgway next to his computer in his home office.