The Oregonian, May 19, 2010
reprinted by the Daily Astorian, Monday, May 24, 2010
As of noon Wednesday - the ninth day of jury selection in the latest legal dance with Randy Lee Guzek - 23 jurors had passed muster in Deschutes County.
Only 21 to go. Only 21 more potential jurors must convince Judge Jack Billings they can impartially decide matters of life and death before we proceed with a trial that serves no purpose but to give Guzek another week or two luxuriating in the stage lights and media buzz.
In the 23 years since Guzek and Mark Wilson murdered Rod and Lois Houser in Terrebonne, Guzek has three times been sentenced to death and three times had that sentence overturned.
In throwing out the death sentence from Guzek's 1997 trial, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that (a) Guzek's attorneys should have been able to introduce alibi evidence during the sentencing phase; and (b) the "true life" option - life without the possibility of parole - should have been available to the jury.
In 2006, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously slapped down that first argument.
The "true life" question is more complicated and has a direct bearing on the ongoing melodrama in Bend.
When Guzek went on trial for the Houser murders in 1987, jurors had only two options if they found him guilty of aggravated murder: the death penalty and life with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
In 1989, however, the Legislature added the "true life" option, and the Oregon Supreme Court eventually ruminated - all ex post facto considerations aside - that the Guzek jury should have considered that third sentencing option in 1997.
In other words, if Guzek waived his right not to confront a law that didn't exist at the time of the murders, his jury could still ensure he died in prison.
Thus, it would seem, the only reason Guzek is back in court, and back in the headlines, is to decide whether he deserves a "true life" sentence rather than a lethal injection.
But in April, Guzek sent a six-page legal brief - in his trademark Times Roman script - to Billings, insisting that "the application of life without parole to my case" violated his constitutional rights in any number of ways.
And when the smoke finally cleared May 10, Billings ruled that "true life" is no longer in Guzek's fourth death-penalty trial.
What in the world is going on?
Billings has imposed a gag order on the attorneys in the case, but Josh Marquis, who is leading the prosecution of Guzek for the third time, argued in a court brief that Guzek "is attempting to create a Catch-22 where no matter what the jury decides he will avoid any but the least severe punishment possible."
Perhaps. Or it might be possible that Guzek has no interest in "true life" because he's come to enjoy the status of death row.
In that august corner of prison, Randy Guzek is a rock star. He has privileges, a reputation for outwitting prosecutors and the occasional opportunity to come out of hiding to taunt relatives of the wonderful couple he murdered.
He may even suspect that in the end, this state doesn't have what it takes to silence him for good.
A death penalty opponent - William R. Long, a visiting professor at Willamette University College of Law - might have said it best.
"By the time Guzek is executed, if ever, we will have spent enough money on his case to have given at least 1,000 Oregon kids full academic scholarships to the University of Oregon," Long wrote in 2005. "Indeed, by the time of his execution, Oregon will have spent more on Randy Guzek than on any other citizen in the history of the state.
"And I suspect that's just the way Guzek would have wanted it."
Steve Duin is a columnist for The Oregonian
- Guzek's fourth death penalty trial begins, By Erin Golden / The Bulletin
- video of opening statements, May 27, 2010, from KTVZ-TV, NewsChannel 21