Nearly Parole Officer for a Devil Incarnate
Before family law, Umberto Davi was there for the John Wayne Gacy trial
Published in 2022 Illinois Super Lawyers magazine on January 28, 2022
It’s been more than 40 years since John Wayne Gacy, the mass murderer of more than 30 young men and boys, stood trial for his crimes, and 27 since he was put to death at Stateville Correctional Center. But Umberto Davi still remembers Gacy’s trial as a pivotal time of his life, largely due to the influence of presiding Judge Louis Garippo.
At the time, Davi served as felony probation officer to defendants who might be given probation in Garippo’s courtroom, which meant that Davi spent a considerable amount of time witnessing proceedings. In Gacy’s case, Davi was there for the full five-week spectacle.
“As a result of being his [potential] probation officer, I had a front-row seat to every single day of that case because I was one of [Judge Garippo’s] court personnel. And so, as some did, I brought my mom in, I brought my wife in, and my in-laws, to see and hear this. It was just an incredible case,” he recalls.
The memories that Davi has on that five-week ordeal are still vivid, and focus on the evidence that was presented. “There were the ropes that he used. The handcuffs that he used,” he says. “The guy was a devil incarnate, is what he was. He had an incredible amount of depravity.”
Despite the trial’s high profile, Davi says Judge Garippo didn’t have a media circus on his hands. “It never got silly or out of control. He ran a very good courtroom. Whenever the gallery would respond to evidence audibly, he would bang his gavel. All the lawyers knew how he ran his courtroom, so they weren’t doing too many antics,” he says. “It speaks to the type of judge he was. You didn’t have all those farcical events that occur on trials televised today. Again, it was 40 years ago, so there were no cameras at all—just sketch artists.”
And while Davi technically could have been named Gacy’s P.O., he says he was never really nervous about that possibility. “Everybody’s presumed innocent until the jury says, ‘you’re guilty,’” Davi says, “but he was, obviously. Clearly there was one outcome from the beginning.”
Davi’s favorite memories are of the interest Judge Garippo took in a young law student’s career. “He had an incredible amount of common sense, as I think any judge should have, in addition to, obviously, the legal knowledge and acumen,” Davi says. “He was not arrogant by any stretch of the imagination. He used humor when appropriate.”
All of this left a permanent impression on the lawyer-to-be. “I had the benefit every day of being in a courtroom, because he wanted me to be there, of course, watching trials, watching dispositions, watching motion procedures before a case would eventually be pled out, or go into a trial,” he says. “I had a limited time to study, because it’s a full-time job. He was very sensitive to that, and would allow me to go into the jury room in the back and open the books when things were in a lull.”
After graduation from John Marshall Law School, Davi practiced a variety of types of law until a friend sought him out for help with a divorce. That changed everything, and he plunged headlong into family law, which he’s been practicing for nearly 40 years. “I seemed to have a propensity for it, and I was more comfortable doing that than I was the criminal law,” he says. “So I progressed into this, and the rest is history, as they say.”