Houser sentenced to 55 years in prison

A 57-year-old Mansfield man has been sentenced to 55 years in prison for murdering his estranged wife 27 years ago in their rural Mansfield home.

Gregory Houser was found guilty of first degree murder on July 13 by a Piatt County jury, which deliberated just under three hours before delivering its verdict in the death of Sheryl Houser following an eight-day trial in Monticello. He was sentenced under laws in effect in 1990 so will serve at least half of his sentence, minus the 349 days he has already been in jail since his September of 2016 arrest.

If and when he is released from prison, Houser will also be on mandatory supervised release – formerly known as parole – for three years.

At the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Piatt County State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades asked for a life sentence, or at least one that would represent the 26 years Houser roamed free after the murder.

“I think the evidence in this case shows the absolute minimum prison sentence should be 52 years, because that equals 26 years and for 26 years Gregory Houser was going on about his life,” said Rhoades. “Twenty-six years not caring about the impact this murder has had on his children; 26 years shifting the blame to other people without accepting responsibility for his actions.”

Houser was convicted of strangling Sheryl Houser on the night of Oct. 4-5, 1990, then staging the scene in their garage to look like a suicide by hanging. The jury also ruled he had committed a sexual assault in the commission of the murder, making him eligible for an enhanced sentence of between 20 years to life in prison.

Before announcing the sentence, Judge Karle Koritz went through a punch list of evidence presented at the trial, including a timeline from the summer of 1990 through October that included Sheryl Houser filing sexual assault charges against Mr. Houser and gaining full custody of their children, then aged 6 years, 3 years and 15 months old.

Koritz added his opinion that there was enough evidence presented at trial to convict the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, and found the fact he murdered Mrs. Houser then left their children to find the body as particularly repugnant.

“That was a cruel thing to do, Mr. Houser,” commented Koritz.

Prosecutors called eight witnesses at the sentencing hearing in Monticello, including girlfriends and a subsequent wife of Mr. Houser who all testified he became controlling and volatile during their relationship.

Vickie Laws said she married Houser on Jan. 18, 1997 after meeting him several weeks earlier. She described their relationship as “champagne and roses” at first, but said it changed “about five minutes after we got married.”

At that point she said he become a verbally and mentally abusive husband who flew into tantrums over dinner not being ready and when she did not get home from work when he expected.

She also said her divorce from him became final just this week.

Ex-girlfriend Christie Campbell-Hall also testified that Houser charged toward her during an argument in

1993 and punched the wall near her head. Campbell-Hall said she then “got my stuff and got the hell out of there.”

Defense attorney Kevin Sanborn countered that each of the ex-girlfriends confirmed there were no sexual assaults and that none had reported any incidents to law enforcement personnel.

Koritz said, however, that the court has leeway to consider unreported incidents in sentencing, including those delivered by witnesses at the hearing.

Sanborn also attributed Houser’s reported lack of emotion since his wife’s death and during the trial to the fact “Mr. Houser maintains his innocence in this case, which may explain his lack of remorse.”

But in a victims impact statement read at Wednesday’s hearing, Sheryl’s mother Phyllis Fehr, who along with husband Victor obtained custody and raised the three Houser boys, testified she had plenty of emotion and felt at times she would “die due to the pain” of losing her daughter.

“Perhaps she didn’t mean anything to him, but she meant a lot to us, her boys, sisters, her other friends and family,” she said.

In defense of Mr. Houser, Sanborn argued for a lesser sentence, citing health issues for his defendant that include diabetes and hypertension.

After the sentencing was announced, Sheryl Houser’s three sisters thanked the Piatt County State’s Attorney’s office and law enforcement officials for not giving up on the case.

“We are thankful that this enormous weight has been lifted from our shoulders. An extraordinary amount of time and energy has consumed our lives over the past 27 years seeking justice for Sheryl from such a senseless act of violence,” said Lisa Stoutenborough, one of three surviving sisters of Sheryl Houser. “Hopefully we can now close this chapter and move on with our lives.”

Another sister, Renee Fehr, added “my family and I are grateful for the closure we have patiently prayed for, and we knew it would someday come.”

Sanborn said an appeal would be filed in the case.

“Greg is innocent, and our fight is not over. Our client intends to appeal, and we’re looking forward to the appellate court hearing the case,” Sanborn stated after the sentencing hearing.

 

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