Defense rests in murder trial

The defense rested its case in the murder trial of Gregory Houser of Mansfield at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday after calling a total of five witnesses, some of whom had already been questioned earlier at the Piatt County murder trial. The case will likely go to the 12-member Piatt County jury for deliberations after closing arguments on Thursday, which begin at 9 a.m.

Houser – who faces four charges of murder in the death of his wife Sheryl Houser in 1990 – spoke for the first time in the seven-day trial, but just to confirm he would not be testifying.

The final witness of the proceedings was Judy Lynn Stauffer, who said she had been in a relationship with Houser since about 2000. She testified to spending time at his home three to four times per week.

“We do things together,” added Stauffer, saying it included going out to supper and in general “hanging out.”

Defense attorney Kevin Sanborn asked if Houser was ever abusive toward her.

“No,” responded Stauffer.

Also called to the witness stand was Rowdy Brooks, a Northern Piatt Fire Protection District volunteer who was paged out the morning of Oct. 5, 1990 about an “unresponsive female” who ended up being Sheryl Houser, who was found dead that morning at the home she shared with then-husband Gregory Houser.

Brooks spoke in general terms, saying he could not remember the exact words of the page, which is similar to what he also told authorities in a 2016 statement.

Jurors left the courtroom when an objection was raised after Sanborn asked Former Piatt County sheriff's Deputy Charles Dunlap if he had consulted a psychic on the case. After hearing from Dunlap that no useful information was gleaned from the psychic, Judge Karle Koritz upheld the prosecution's objection and did not allow him to answer the query when the jury returned.

Also recalled by the defense was retired Illinois State Police investigator Steve Hankel, who was asked if authorities performed a walk around the Houser home after Sheryl Houser's body was found in the garage on Oct. 5, 1990. Hankel remembered a “cursory” inspection, but could not recall if nylon ropes were used on an outdoor swing set.

Sanborn ended his case by entering into evidence four crime scene photos that were examined by jurors while in the courtroom. That came after concern that taped arrows placed on the photos by the defense could by moved while being examined.

Judge Karle Koritz showed concern about the tape, but after Sanborn pointed out the prosecution had placed circles on the photos, allowed it as long as jurors examined them in open court.

Jurors took about 10 minutes in total to review the photos before handing them back to the bailiff. Some took as little as 30 seconds, others nearly a minute and a half as they studied them.



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007 wrote on July 12, 2017 at 8:07 pm

I am wondering why no one in the media knew that the 2nd coroner’s inquest was not legal? The state law is the original coroner’s jury inquest decision can never be changed. An example is the Drew Peterson case. Even tho new forensics showed one wife was murdered and not a drowning in the bathtub, the county corner refused to hold a 2nd inquest. The states attorney protested till he found out that the manner of death on the death certificate could not be changed as the law does not allow original corner’s jury decision to be changed. So Piatt county state’s attorney spent tax payers money for nothing. It was just for media attention. And really it makes no difference in a prosecution of murder, no matter what the coroner’s jury decided. The point being if state’s attorney ignores the law, how many times can that happen?

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