2 days in, 4 jurors picked: Houser murder trial off to slow start

2 days in, 4 jurors picked: Houser murder trial off to slow start

MONTICELLO — After two full days of questioning, attorneys involved in the murder trial of Gregory Houser have agreed to only four people they believe can fairly judge him.

Questioning continues at 9 a.m. Thursday, the 57th birthday of the Mansfield man accused of strangling his estranged wife in 1990.

It wasn’t until September 2016 that Houser was arrested and charged with the first-degree murder of Sheryl Ann Houser.

The 29-year-old mother of three sons was found on the floor of the garage of the family home in rural Mahomet. Her shoulders were off the floor, held up by a rope tied around her neck. Police also found a ladder nearby.

Authorities believe the scene was staged to make her death appear a suicide.

Jury selection began Monday morning, with Judge Karle Koritz first asking potential jurors a series of background questions about families, occupations and the like.

Piatt County State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades and defense attorney Kevin Sanborn of Bloomington then supplemented with questions of their own.

About 80 jurors showed up for service. A dozen at a time were seated in the jury box in the courtroom while the rest remained in a courtroom on a different floor waiting — and waiting — to be called. Not allowed access to cellphones or other electronic devices, many had books and magazines and left the courtroom occasionally to purchase a can of soda.

Twelve potential jurors were put in the jury box so each heard the same questions over and over, an exercise that tested the patience of many of the spectators. Those include Houser’s parents as well as several relatives of Mrs. Houser.

Some of the questions were designed to learn about the prospective jurors’ ability to endure a lengthy trial with possibly graphic and disturbing evidence. The trial is scheduled to go through the end of next week.

Others were designed to learn biases: Can you sit in judgment of someone? Do you feel you would have to justify your verdict to people around you? How do you feel about divorce? What’s your opinion about law enforcement? 

Others were more probing, such as did they know anyone who was a victim of homicide, sex assault or domestic violence — all topics the jury is expected to hear.

One woman cried as she revealed her sister had been a victim of sex assault and her fiance murdered decades ago in separate crimes; another spoke of her and her mother being battered by her father when she was a child.

Also in attendance Wednesday was probably the only person in the room who could truly understand what the stone-faced Houser was feeling.

Former Adams County prosecutor Curt Lovelace and his wife Christine watched several hours of jury selection.

Now living in Champaign, Lovelace, 48, was acquitted in March of the 2006 murder of his wife, Cory Lovelace, 38.

She was found dead in bed in their Quincy home on Feb. 14, 2006. The cause of her death was undetermined, with no signs of foul play. 

In August 2014, the former University of Illinois football player and graduate of the UI College of Law was accused of suffocating her, the cause of her death having been revisited by an expert solicited by a new detective who reopened the case.

The defense argued she died of natural causes. Evidence revealed she had many health problems, including liver issues related to alcoholism.

Lovelace spent almost two years in jail and another nine months of home confinement waiting for his vindication.

His first trial in Quincy ended in a hung jury in February 2016. The retrial was held in Springfield in March and ended with a jury acquitting him in about two hours.

He has since moved to Champaign, where he’s trying to restart his law career.

Asked about why he was there watching, Lovelace politely responded that he and his wife “had some time and were interested.”

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