William J. Kunkle Jr. dies at 81; prosecutor in John Wayne Gacy case


William J. Kunkle Jr. was an assistant state’s attorney when he was chosen to prosecute John Wayne Gacy. Kunkle was later chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board and a Cook County judge.

Sun-Times file photo/ Kevin Horhan

As the prosecutor who secured the death penalty for serial killer John Wayne Gacy, William J. Kunkle Jr. could have coasted on the celebrity of the case for the rest of his career.

But he instead used the experience to travel the country and teach others about the infamous trial and some of its legal peculiarities.

The Gacy trial was the first Illinois case to have a jury selected from outside of the district. Jurors were pooled from the Rockford area. Prosecutors were dealing with 11 unidentified bodies and were saddled with the burden of disproving Gacy’s insanity plea.

“I never regarded it as a slam-dunk,” Mr. Kunkle said in an interview with the Chicago Bar Association podcast in 2018.

The case “was a tremendous education that allowed me to go all over the country lecturing to police officers, state’s attorneys, defense lawyers, whoever wanted to hear,” he said.

Mr. Kunkle, 81, was found dead of natural causes Saturday in his suburban Indian Head Park home, his family said.

Family and friends remembered Mr. Kunkle as a stern yet empathetic man who, while a prime example of the “prosecutor everybody wanted to be like,” also lived a full life outside of work, corralling friends for yearly cross-country motorcycle trips and golf outings in Florida.

“He had some great teachers, but the student became the teacher,” said Daniel Locallo, a former Cook County judge. “We all learned from him many times in the state’s attorney’s office.”

“People loved to hear him,” his daughter Susan Kunkle said. “He had a powerful presence. When he spoke people listened.”

Mr. Kunkle prosecuted several other high-profile cases. He was a special prosecutor of the “DuPage 7” — the seven law officers accused and later acquitted of cooking up evidence to convict Rolando Cruz in the 1983 kidnapping, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in Naperville Township.

He headed an unsuccessful defense of disgraced Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge, accused of torturing dozens into false confessions. And he helped conduct the congressional inquiry that forced former House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) to resign.

Mr. Kunkle left the state’s attorneys office in 1985 for private practice. He was chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board from 1990 to 1993, then served as a Cook County judge until retiring in 2014.

Mr. Kunkle was the oldest of three brothers. He was born in 1941, in Lakewood, Ohio, and grew up in Fairview Park, a western suburb of Cleveland, his brother Bob Kunkle said.

He played football and baseball in school, and graduated high school valedictorian, his brother said. “He didn’t have to study that hard. Things came naturally to …read more

Source:: Chicago Sun Times

      

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