Friday, May 28, 2010

Guzek’s fourth death penalty trial begins

Opening arguments for trial of Randy Guzek
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



Guzek revels in endless spotlight

By Steve Duin
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