55 YEAR SENTENCE: Ex's talk of Houser's controlling nature

At Gregory Houser’s murder trial in July, prosecutors portrayed him as a man angered enough by his estranged wife’s growing independence that it drove him to murder her. It convinced a jury to convict him of the crime two months ago, and that theme of needing to control women spilled over into last week’s sentencing hearing, where Houser was sentenced to 55 years in prison for murdering Sheryl Houser on Oct. 4-5, 1990 in their rural Mansfield home.

“In the beginning it was very good, but the longer we were together the more controlling he became,” said Deana Quinn, who dated Houser in 1991-92. “He wanted to control everything I did, where I went, who I talked to.”

 

That led to arguments and eventually to physical altercations where she told the court Houser slapped her and knocked her down. She eventually obtained an order of protection against him.

“I just didn’t feel safe any more,” said Quinn.

Christie Campbell-Hall dated Houser off and on for three years beginning in 1993, commenting that Houser proposed to her three weeks after they met. At the urging of her family, Campbell-Hall did not marry him, and said eventually Houser began to throw tantrums over things like dinner not being ready.

“It would come out of the blue,” she said at the sentencing hearing in describing his outbursts.

One day at the residence they shared, he “came towards me and punched the wall just by my head,” added Campbell-Hall. That is when she gathered what she could and “got the hell out of there.”

The story was similar for Vickie Laws, who married Houser after a month-long courtship in January of 1997 but moved out of their Mahomet apartment in December of that year.

“I fled. I was scared for myself and my daughter,” she said, noting her divorce from him became official the day before the Sept. 6 sentencing hearing was held.

Houser’s defense attorney Kevin Sanborn responded there was a lack of criminal record for his defendant prior to and since the murder, adding he did not violate orders of protection filed by his ex’s. The ex-girlfriends and ex-wife also confirmed there had been no sexual assault by Houser, something he was convicted of committing during the murder of Sheryl Houser.

* * *

Circuit Court Judge Karle Koritz actually lauded the defense, saying they did “a good job” and “minimized the damage” done to Houser by prosecutors during the July court proceedings.

Koritz did not have the same respect for Houser, taking time before formally sentencing him to recount just why he was convicted. He pointed to Houser’s suspicious behavior the night of the murder, the lack of forcible entry into the home where Mrs. Houser was found, and the mode of death – “manual strangulation, which is very personal and emotional.”

“The jury considered that the evidence established found there was no motive for anyone in the world other than you to kill Sheryl Houser. You had opportunity, motive, familiarity with the residence,” said the judge.

“You were the person who had been hiding in corn fields spying on Sheryl Houser,” he added of trial testimony given by Mr. Houser’s acquaintances.

* * *

The nearly four-hour sentencing hearing got underway with consideration of a motion made by the defense to set aside the first degree murder verdict or order a new trial.

Sanborn’s main focus was evidence related to a drop of blood on Mrs. Houser’s nightgown that was seen on morgue photos but not on crime scene photos. DNA testing showed it did not belong to Gregory Houser nor to any crime scene workers, prompting prosecutors to argue contamination at the morgue.

But Sanborn felt the state should have investigated the blood more thoroughly and determined specifically who it came from.

“We asked if there were any male cadavers stored there at the time. If so, who were they? The DNA analysis of those cadavers if they even existed?” he added.

Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Dobson explained that defense attorneys had the same evidence as the prosecution, pointing out the blood sample was compared to 32 different people and no match found.

“It isn’t as though the state was concealing any evidence,” said Dobson.

Koritiz said the defense had the opportunity to argue that the blood came from the killer but never did so. He also dismissed claims there was not enough evidence to convict Mr. Houser beyond a reasonable doubt, and denied the motion to set aside the verdict or order a new trial.

In a press release issued after the sentencing, Johnson Law Group – the Bloomington law firm representing Mr. Houser – defended their client.

“The only evidence of a sexual assault was a condom next to a toppled-over trash bag. There were no eye witnesses to the murder, and no forensic evidence that linked Greg to Sheryl’s death. To the contrary, blood was found on Sheryl’s nightgown, and DNA testing proved that it was not Greg’s blood. Even the state’s own expert witnesses could not agree on where that blood came from.”

* * *

Victim impact statements from relatives Sheryl Houser were “powerful,” said Koritz.

Lisa Stoutenborough said she and Mrs. Houser’s two other sisters decided in 1990 they would stick together and help raise their fallen sibling’s three boys, then aged 6 years, 3 years and 15 months old.

“I’ll never forget sitting in the back seat of a funeral home limo at the cemetery and making a pact with my sisters. We agreed that we would stick together, not let anything come between us and help raise Sheryl’s boys because that is exactly what she would have done for us. What else were we supposed to do?” said Stoutenborough at the sentencing hearing.

She also spoke to “irreversible impacts” that continue for the family due to the murder, not limited to emotional ones but financial ones as Sheryl’s parents Vic and Phyllis Fehr took on the responsibility of raising the three boys and sending them through college.

Stoutenborough also said they “try not to harbor resentment for Greg” but admitted, “it is a lot easier said then done.”

In another impact statement, Mrs. Fehr said “there were moments after her death and again during the trial I thought I might die from the pain and sorrow over the brutal death of my daughter and the pain it caused us, the boys, our daughters and so many others over the past 27 years. And to think, the person who did this to her – Greg – said he loved her, he married her, and he is the father of her three boys.”

She also asked for life in prison for her son-in-law.

“He has been allowed to live free, with no remorse or care in the world for his wrongful actions. It seems that asking for him to live the remainder of his life in prison is a small price to pay for taking away another’s life at the age of 29 and leaving three young boys with no mother to love and raise them,” added Fehr.

Circuit Court Judge Karle Koritz actually lauded the defense, saying they did “a good job” and “minimized the damage” done to Houser by prosecutors during the July court proceedings.

Koritz did not have the same respect for Houser, taking time before formally sentencing him to recount just why he was convicted. He pointed to Houser’s suspicious behavior the night of the murder, the lack of forcible entry into the home where Mrs. Houser was found, and the mode of death – “manual strangulation, which is very personal and emotional.”

“The jury considered that the evidence established found there was no motive for anyone in the world other than you to kill Sheryl Houser. You had opportunity, motive, familiarity with the residence,” said the judge.

“You were the person who had been hiding in corn fields spying on Sheryl Houser,” he added of trial testimony given by Mr. Houser’s acquaintances.

* * *

The nearly four-hour sentencing hearing got underway with consideration of a motion made by the defense to set aside the first degree murder verdict or order a new trial.

Sanborn’s main focus was evidence related to a drop of blood on Mrs. Houser’s nightgown that was seen on morgue photos but not on crime scene photos. DNA testing showed it did not belong to Gregory Houser nor to any crime scene workers, prompting prosecutors to argue contamination at the morgue.

But Sanborn felt the state should have investigated the blood more thoroughly and determined specifically who it came from.

“We asked if there were any male cadavers stored there at the time. If so, who were they? The DNA analysis of those cadavers if they even existed?” he added.

Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Dobson explained that defense attorneys had the same evidence as the prosecution, pointing out the blood sample was compared to 32 different people and no match found.

“It isn’t as though the state was concealing any evidence,” said Dobson.

Koritiz said the defense had the opportunity to argue that the blood came from the killer but never did so. He also dismissed claims there was not enough evidence to convict Mr. Houser beyond a reasonable doubt, and denied the motion to set aside the verdict or order a new trial.

In a press release issued after the sentencing, Johnson Law Group – the Bloomington law firm

representing Mr. Houser – defended their client.

“The only evidence of a sexual assault was a condom next to a toppled-over trash bag. There were no eye witnesses to the murder, and no forensic evidence that linked Greg to Sheryl’s death. To the contrary, blood was found on Sheryl’s nightgown, and DNA testing proved that it was not Greg’s blood. Even the state’s own expert witnesses could not agree on where that blood came from.”

* * *

Victim impact statements from relatives Sheryl Houser were “powerful,” said Koritz.

Lisa Stoutenborough said she and Mrs. Houser’s two other sisters decided in 1990 they would stick together and help raise their fallen sibling’s three boys, then aged 6 years, 3 years and 15 months old.

“I’ll never forget sitting in the back seat of a funeral home limo at the cemetery and making a pact with my sisters. We agreed that we would stick together, not let anything come between us and help raise Sheryl’s boys because that is exactly what she would have done for us. What else were we supposed to do?” said Stoutenborough at the sentencing hearing.

She also spoke to “irreversible impacts” that continue for the family due to the murder, not limited to emotional ones but financial ones as Sheryl’s parents Vic and Phyllis Fehr took on the responsibility of raising the three boys and sending them through college.

Stoutenborough also said they “try not to harbor resentment for Greg” but admitted, “it is a lot easier said then done.”

In another impact statement, Mrs. Fehr said “there were moments after her death and again during the trial I thought I might die from the pain and sorrow over the brutal death of my daughter and the pain it caused us, the boys, our daughters and so many others over the past 27 years. And to think, the person who did this to her – Greg – said he loved her, he married her, and he is the father of her three boys.”

She also asked for life in prison for her son-in-law.

“He has been allowed to live free, with no remorse or care in the world for his wrongful actions. It seems that asking for him to live the remainder of his life in prison is a small price to pay for taking away another’s life at the age of 29 and leaving three young boys with no mother to love and raise them,” added Fehr.

 

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