Justice delayed

Justice delayed

Where was justice hiding all these years?

Twenty-seven years after her suspicious death, the estranged husband of Sheryl Houser was sentenced this week to the equivalent of life in prison for her murder.

Circuit Judge Karle Koritz ordered 57-year-old Gregory Houser of Mansfield to serve a 55-year prison sentence for killing his wife and staging the death scene to look like a suicide.

Given the evidence, Koritz's sentence is more than justified.

But in the aftermath of this terrible case, one nagging question cannot continue to be ignored — what took so long? How was the original investigation so badly bungled that it took 26 years to charge Houser with murder and bring him to trial?

There's no other way to characterize the investigatory abomination overseen by Piatt County authorities back in 1990. If Houser's family members hadn't continued to press their claims that she was murdered and finally found a sympathetic audience in law enforcement and the state's attorney's office, there would have been no prosecution and no conviction.

Further, while Gregory Houser now faces spending most, if not all, of the rest of his life in prison, he has been a free man all this time.

This delayed prosecution is not one of those cases where newly discovered evidence changed the complexion of the case and gave authorities the legal opening required to pursue a prosecution. Instead, it's one where authorities simply didn't take advantage of evidence available at the time.

This was a terrible case, one of those horrendously unfortunate instances where an abused wife was unable to escape death at the hands of a cruel, controlling husband.

The crime-scene evidence of a suicide was hardly persuasive, given Sheryl Houser's love of family, devotion to her three children and nursing career. The evidence that she was sexually assaulted at the death scene further undermined any reasonable argument that she took her own life.

Frankly, it's impossible to explain the investigatory blindness on display here. But it's not difficult to condemn it as the height of professional indifference, at worst, or incompetence, at best.

It's a tremendous relief that Gregory Houser was finally called to account for his cruelly indefensible behavior. But what if Sheryl Houser had had no family and friends to speak for her? What if she had died terrified and alone with no one to demand justice on her behalf?

That's what law enforcement is supposed to do — act on behalf of those no longer able to act for themselves and make sure that every life counts, no matter the individual's station in life.

There was a massive failure in the Houser investigation. Thankfully, it wasn't so bad it couldn't be corrected too many years later.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion