Convicted murderer costing state millions

27 years of legal fees adding up

By Shelby R. King / The Bulletin

Timeline

June 1987: Randy Guzek and two accomplices shoot and kill Rod and Lois Houser at their home in Terrebonne.

March 1988: A jury finds Guzek guilty and he is sentenced to death.

July 1991: After the Oregon Supreme Court strikes down Guzek’s death sentence, a second jury finds Guzek guilty and he is again sentenced to death.

October 1997: After the Oregon Supreme Court again strikes down Guzek’s sentence, a third jury finds Guzek guilty and he is again sentenced to death.

December 2005: Guzek’s case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court.

February 2006: The U.S. Supreme Court reverses an Oregon Supreme Court decision, determining Guzek’s Eighth Amendment rights were not violated.

June 2010: For the fourth time, a jury finds Guzek guilty and he is sentenced to death.

August 2010: Guzek files documents asking for a new trial.

October 2010: A court denies Guzek’s request.

March 2014: Guzek’s attorneys again file a brief requesting a new trial.

Source: Bulletin reporting

Defending a man sentenced to death four times for killing a Terrebonne couple has cost the state nearly $3 million since the murders, and that number could rise now that his attorneys in March filed a brief outlining why their client should be tried a fifth time.

The Oregon Judicial Department and its predecessor, the Indigent Defense Services Division of the Oregon Judicial Department, have paid $2.97 million in legal defense fees for Randy Guzek, according to Paul Levy, general counsel at the Office of Public Defense Services.

“This figure represents the expenses paid in connection with the four prior trials of the case, and each appeal from those trials, including the most recent appeal in which the brief for Mr. Guzek was filed last month,” Levy said in a Wednesday email.

Guzek was 18 when he and two accomplices murdered Rod and Lois Houser at their home, ransacked it and then staged the scene to look like a ritual murder. In 1988, a jury convicted Guzek of aggravated murder, but the sentence was overturned. He was retried three times, in three separate appeals. Each of those juries, for a total of 48 people, also sentenced Guzek to death. Guzek’s case in 2005 went to the United States Supreme Court, which reversed an Oregon Supreme Court decision.

Guzek in 2010 was sentenced to death for the fourth time. After sentencing, the defense team automatically began working on an appeal for its client.

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, who twice served as special prosecutor on the case, said this could go on for years.

“The appeals are likely to go on for at least another decade,” Marquis wrote in a Tuesday email. “I think there is a strong possibility that while I was 38 when I started prosecuting Randy Guzek, that he will outlive me.”

In March, Guzek’s defense attorneys filed a brief with the Oregon Supreme Court requesting it again overturn the death sentence and retry their client for the fifth time.

Marquis said the defense’s four-year delay in filing the brief boils down to two things: the length of time it took Deschutes County Circuit Court to transcribe a recording of the trial and the defense’s claim that the court’s transcript was incomplete.

Guzek’s trial was originally audio-recorded, then later transcribed. Christa Neal, Deschutes County Circuit Court operations supervisor, said it took until June 1, 2011, to complete the transcription of the trial recording because the trial was “lengthy and complicated.”

She said once the transcription is made available to the defense and prosecution, each side has the chance to review it and ask for amendments. She said there were multiple motions to amend in this case.

The approximately 890-page appeals brief largely repeats many of the same issues brought up in prior appeals trials, Marquis said. He said he has not read the entire document, but says it appears one of the defense’s major contentions is that the trial court erred in forcing Guzek to wear a stun belt — a device that can deliver debilitating shocks — during trial.

The defense contends the stun belt infringed on Guzek’s right to meaningfully assist counsel and affected his demeanor during trial, among other things, according to the brief.

“It says that the stun belt made him appear impassive, but that is complete nonsense,” Marquis said. “He chose to present himself to the jury how he did. And as the prosecuting attorney I wouldn’t sit six feet away from someone I worked to get sentenced to death when he didn’t have a stun belt on and had a pen sitting in front of him (a possible deadly weapon).”

The defense attorney asked for “literally dozens of extensions” to file the brief, Marquis said. At the time, Guzek was represented by Richard Wolf, Marquis said. Wolf was unavailable for comment.

A call made Wednesday to Guzek’s current defense attorney, Portland-based Karen Steele, was not returned.

One such extension, filed by Wolf, involved the defense requesting that jurors, the judge and the prosecuting attorneys in the 2010 trial be re-examined to see whether they remember Guzek’s co-defendant, Mark Wilson, nodding during testimony, Marquis said.

The defense contended that Wilson nodded in affirmation to one of the prosecution’s questions, but his nod wasn’t included in the transcript.

In a January 2014 response, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Jamese Rhoades said the court had attempted to locate jurors, had questioned the presiding judge and the prosecuting attorney, Marquis, about whether anyone remembered a nod from Wilson.

“The seven jurors who responded to the Court’s inquiry either did not recall any response from the witness or they recall no response was given,” Rhoades wrote. “Counsel’s criticism of this court’s procedures underscores the folly that this court has thus far engaged in.”

Marquis, who said he has not been asked to serve as special prosecutor if the case once again goes to trial, said the Oregon Supreme Court will now decided whether to uphold the fourth death penalty conviction or send the case back to trial.

“I’m acutely aware, at this point, of the emotional expense this is causing on the victims,” he said. “But we have more evidence to present if it does go back to court.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0376, sking@bendbulletin.com