Hutchinson Sarah McKinnon spent hours each day with Dennis Rader, helping to guide him through the legal process that ended with his sentence to 10 life terms for a series of sadistic murders that terrified Wichita for decades.
Now, the Reno County woman wonders how long it will take for life to return to normal - if it ever does.
"I'm still trying to find my stride," McKinnon told The Hutchinson News for a story in Sunday's editions. "I'm still trying to find where regular is - where I left off six months ago, where normal used to be."
Adding to the strain, she said, is that attorney-client privilege prevents her from discussing too many specifics.
"It's not like you can call your best friend or your mom and dump it on them," she said. "Because of this case's high profile, I've had to carry it inside of me. And now that it's said and done, I can't just spill my guts.
"I've seen things I never wanted to see," said McKinnon, who has lost 25 pounds since the Sedgwick County Public Defender's office took the case in March. "I have information I never wanted, and I have things inside of me that I don't want ... but it's stuff I have to keep until the day he dies."
Rader, who pleaded guilty to killing 10 people from 1974 to 1991, was sentenced in August.
McKinnon said she had mixed emotions when she was asked to join Rader's defense team.
"I didn't know what I was going to say," she said. "But I thought, 'I give my best to everyone else. I can give my best for this guy, too.'"
That meant spending five to six hours at a time with Rader, talking not only about his case but about his personal life.
"I spent the most time with him, by far," McKinnon said. "For the first couple of months, I spent nearly every day with him."
Rader was an officer in his church, a Boy Scout leader, a family man who repeatedly characterized himself as a good person - when he wasn't living up to the self-taken nickname that stood for "Bind, Torture, Kill."
"Mentally, it was challenging to have those two things coexist," McKinnon said. "It would've been easier emotionally to process the things he had done if he wasn't the human being I saw."
As the case wore on, McKinnon's husband, Reno County District Judge Steven Becker, noticed the strains.
"For the first few weeks, she would bring it home and we would brainstorm legal issues, and it was stimulating," Becker said. "Then after a few weeks, instead of bringing the case home, she was bringing her client home. We weren't talking legal issues, we were talking about her client - and I'll confess, it didn't take long before I was tired of her client in our home."
Family obligations became formalities, McKinnon said, as she became more and more absorbed in the case. And more disturbingly, she said, she began to see aspects of Rader's personality in others - and in herself.
"I remember her saying, 'I can see some of my character traits in him,' and that frightened her," Becker said. "I remember her saying, 'I don't know what to do about that, I don't know how to deal with that.'"
Eventually, McKinnon found a sympathetic listener in Ray Wurtz, a clinical social worker whose work for the Kansas Department of Corrections involves psychopathy assessments on prisoners. The two met through a mutual friend.
"I can't imagine any human spending five to six hours a day with someone who had a construct like Rader," Wurtz said. "They suck the very life right out of your soul. I don't know how many assessments I've done, and they still make me sick, spiritually and physically. I have to detox afterward."
Repeated exposure to a psychopath can produce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including irritability and sleep disorders.
"Anyone who is subjected to a person that is a sadistic psychopath has the potential of being damaged," Wurtz said. "They'll be damaged emotionally, psychically and spiritually."