By Erin Golden / The Bulletin
Published: May 28. 2010 4:00AM PST
As she sat at the witness stand, dabbing back tears with a tissue, Susan Shirley identified the things that had once made her parents’ house a home.
There were the wicker baskets her mother had collected. A stuffed white cat purchased as a gift for the couple’s grandchildren. A pair of running shoes that had belonged to her father, a marathoner. A small wooden bank, still filled with coins that clinked as the prosecutor shook it back and forth.
Nearly 23 years after Rod and Lois Houser were murdered in their Terrebonne home, Shirley took the stand in Deschutes County Circuit Court on Thursday to testify in the fourth death penalty trial of one of the men convicted of the crime.
Randy Lee Guzek, now 41, was 18 when he and two other men shot and stabbed the Housers and then ransacked their home. He was convicted of aggravated murder in 1988 and sentenced to death, but the sentence has been overturned three times.
Life or death?
Now, a new jury — made up of eight women and four men — will decide if Guzek should receive the death penalty or a life sentence with the possibility of parole in 60 years.
On Thursday, Guzek, dressed in a suit, sat between his attorneys as he listened to the attorney’s opening statements and Shirley’s testimony. Several of the victims’ family members were in the courtroom, along with a handful of sheriff’s deputies who watched over Guzek during the proceedings.
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, who was appointed as a special prosecutor on the case, told the jury that Guzek was a highly intelligent and manipulative young man who plotted and carried out a string of burglaries before deciding to enlist the help of two friends to murder the Housers, the aunt and uncle of a girl he’d once dated.
“This was not a burglary gone bad,” Marquis said. “This was not something where it was just another one of these burglaries. This was a murder intended to be a murder. And it was planned and plotted and carried out by Randy Guzek.”
Richard Wolf, one of three attorneys representing Guzek, agreed that the facts of the Housers’ deaths are serious and not up for debate. But he told the jury that they should consider the circumstances surrounding the crime, including Guzek’s difficult childhood at the hands of an abusive, alcoholic father — and even the abuse that Guzek’s mother and father suffered when they were growing up.
“You’re going to hear from numerous people that really the only way Randy could get any affirmation from his father was to engage in antisocial and criminal activities,” Wolf said.
Defense attorneys plan to call several of Guzek’s family members and friends, including his siblings, as witnesses.
After the opening statements, prosecutors called their first two witnesses: Guzek’s high school health teacher, whose home was burglarized by Guzek and his friends, and Shirley, who discovered the bodies of her parents along with her younger sister on July 1, 1987.
Shirley identified several items that were recovered from the crime scene as belongings of her parents — and said she’d seen them after the murders, when police took her to Guzek’s home.
Guzek had apparently been using many of the items as his own. A tablecloth that had once been on the Housers’ kitchen table was on Guzek’s table, a bedspread in his bedroom. The name “Guzek” was etched into the back of the couple’s television.
Guzek was convicted by a jury in 1988 and sentenced to death. Two years later, the Oregon Supreme Court overturned that sentence and those of other death row inmates because of a flaw in Oregon’s death penalty law.
The two other men who participated in the murders, Donald Ross Cathey and Mark James Wilson, were both convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors plan to call both men to testify, along with a long list of other witnesses that includes some of Guzek’s former teachers and classmates from Redmond High School, medical examiners and police officers, a forensic psychiatrist and family members of the victims.
The trial is set to resume next Tuesday and is expected to take at least three weeks.
Erin Golden can be reached at 541-617-7837 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.