Ore. convicted killer sentenced to die for 4th time after 3 other death sentences overturned

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Randy Lee Guzek is returning to death row.

A jury in the central Oregon city of Bend deliberated for less than six hours Thursday before deciding to impose the death penalty on the man convicted of murdering an Oregon couple in 1987.

Juries had sentenced Guzek to death three times before, but each sentence was overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court on procedural grounds. The U.S. Supreme Court has also weighed in on the case.

"I've been trying this case for 19 years and believe this was a just verdict, as it was in 1988, 1991 and 1997," special prosecutor Josh Marquis said.

The 41-year-old Guzek was 18 when he and two accomplices robbed Rod and Lois Houser, who lived in the small town of Terrebonne. Guzek, under the influence of methamphetamine, ordered one of the accomplices to kill Rod Houser, who months earlier had told Guzek to stay away from his niece.

Lois Houser was chased up the staircase and shot three times by Guzek, who then stole the wedding ring off her finger.

Guzek's 1988 murder conviction has never been reversed, but his death sentence spawned a legal drama that has lasted 22 years and reportedly cost the state more than $2 million.

At the beginning of the latest trial, Guzek waived an option that would have given him the chance for life in prison with no opportunity for parole. Jurors were then left with two options: a death sentence or life in prison with possibility of parole when Guzek is 78.

"I think juries are willing to forgo death sentences if they know the person will always remain in prison," said Rich Wolf, Guzek's attorney. "But as long there's the possibility, however removed, that they could get out, I think that impacts their decision."

During the three-week trial, jurors were repeatedly told of Guzek's horrific upbringing at the hands of an abusive father. Despite that, not one of the 12 jurors was moved to keep Guzek off death row.

"I think perhaps the history of having prior death sentences didn't help us," Wolf said.

Marquis was the prosecutor in Guzek's 1991 sentencing trial. He later moved from Bend to Oregon's north coast, but returned for the 1997 trial and this one as a promise to the Houser family.

"The real heroes in this are the Houser family," Marquis said. "They are incredible. They have stayed steadfast for years and it's not been through vengeance. They just want justice."

The verdict raises the number of inmates on Oregon's death row to 34.

With Oregon's lengthy appeals process, the state has only executed two prisoners since the death penalty was reinstated. Both men, who died more than a decade ago, voluntarily waived their appeals.