A convicted killer awaiting trial for the alleged rape and murder of a young girl may try to avoid the death penalty if convicted by arguing he was doomed by a dark encounter with one of the nation's most notorious murderers, John Wayne Gacy.
Brian Dugan, convicted of two murders in the Chicago suburbs in the 1980s, is awaiting trial on charges of kidnapping, raping and murdering a 10-year-old girl, Jeanie Nicarico, in 1983.
Dugan reportedly claims that as a teenager in the 1970s, he was abducted and abused by another infamous resident of the Chicago suburbs: Gacy, one of the country's most prolific serial killers, who raped and killed at least 33 young men.
Dugan's account of the alleged meeting between the two men was first reported by the Illinois Daily Herald and confirmed to ABC News by an investigator on the case.
Dugan's defense team is investigating the claims and could use them as mitigating evidence to try to spare Dugan the death penalty if he is convicted. Dugan's lawyer, Steve Greenberg, declined to comment, citing a gag order on the case.
But, in raising the possibility of an attack by Gacy, Dugan joins the ranks of numerous serial killers who have claimed they were mistreated as children. Texas serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, for example, claimed he was repeatedly assaulted and sexually abused by his mother, whom he later admitted to killing.
"Most serial killers have suffered as children," said Jack Levin, a Northeastern University professor and author of "Serial Killers and Sadistic Murderers." "Many of them have been abused physically, verbally or sexually."
A Disputed Account
According to the published account in the Daily Herald, Dugan told police investigators and psychologists that, when he was 15, a man in a dark-colored car asked him if he needed a job and gave him a ride.
He claims the man, whom he later identified as Gacy, drove him to a remote area and forced him to model a pair of bikini briefs and perform and receive oral sex. Dugan claims Gacy then gave him $20 and let him go.
Terry Sullivan, who prosecuted Gacy and later wrote a book about the case, was skeptical of Dugan's story, which he did not report to the police at the time. Gacy was executed in 1994.
Sullivan said he was not aware of Gacy ever asking any of his victims to model underwear or giving any of them money. He said Gacy was not known to be prowling the area where Dugan claims to have been abducted at the time.
"Could it have happened? Sure. Certainly he would have fit the style, the look, the kind of kid that Gacy was attracted to," he said, but added that "from what I know about [Gacy], I would say Dugan probably was not" abused by Gacy.
Dugan is serving a life sentence for two murders. In 1984, raped and killed 27-year-old Donna Schnorr. A year later, he raped and drowned 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman. During prison interviews with investigators about those cases, he allegedly made statements that implicated him in the death of Nicarico.
Three other men were initially charged in Nicarico's killing and two were sentenced to death. They were later exonerated. Dugan was charged in 2005 after DNA linked him to the crime. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in January.
Serial Killers' Excuse
It is common for serial killers to claim some form of abuse as children and to use that history to try to avoid punishment for their crimes.
Childhood abuse has an established correlation to sexual deviancy later in life, experts said.
"Children who have suffered grow up feeling a profound sense of helplessness," Levin said. "Most compensate in a socially accepted way. But a few can't do that for some reason. Instead, they only feel powerful to the extent that they torture, rape, dismember and kill."
Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist, said that when those early traumatic experiences come during the victim's sexual maturation, "that rage can get blended in with their sexuality."
"Sadistic fantasies become increasingly dominant," he said.
But, Welner and other serial killer experts pointed out, many people have suffered abuse without going on to become killers.
"Not all serial killers are abused. There may be a correlation. It may contribute. But it's not the whole story. It's not even half the story," said James Fox, a criminologist who has researched serial killers.
Fox also warned that serial killers will lie to avoid punishment.
"Serial killers are typically accomplished liars and manipulators," he said. "You have to take what these people say not just with a grain of salt, but with the whole salt shaker."
ABC News Consultant Dr. Michael Welner is chairman of The Forensic Panel, a national forensic science practice. He is developing an evidence-based test called the Depravity Scale, http://depravityscale.org, which invites Americans to participate in surveys that are used to form a legal standard of what represents worst crimes.