MONTICELLO — A Mansfield man accused of strangling his wife 26 years ago appeared in Piatt County Court on Monday for the first time since authorities filed four murder charges against him last week.
Gregory J. Houser, 56, waived his arraignment and formal reading of charges at the morning court session, and intends to plead not guilty at a preliminary hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 7, according to attorney Brendan Bukalski of Johnson Law Group, the Bloomington firm representing Houser.
"We believe in Greg’s innocence, and will carry this through to the end," Bukalski said after the hearing.
Defense attorneys also filed motions Monday for discovery, preservation of evidence and for the possible setting of bond. Houser has been held without bond in the Piatt County jail since his arrest by Illinois State Police on Sept. 22. Earlier that day, Piatt County State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades had filed four counts of first-degree murder against Houser.
After Monday’s hearing, Rhoades said she had no additional information to release.
A handcuffed Houser, wearing a jail-issued orange jumpsuit, was escorted into the third-floor courtroom by two Piatt County Sheriff’s deputies for the hearing. Houser did not speak during his initial court date, which took approximately 10 minutes.
The state will need to lay out probable cause for the murder charges at next week’s hearing.
Houser is accused of strangling his wife, Sheryl Ann Houser, 29 at time, on or about Oct. 4-5, 1990, at her rural Mahomet home. The couple was in the midst of divorce proceedings, and Mrs. Houser had filed sexual assault charges against her husband on Sept. 20 of the same year. Mr. Houser was later acquitted of those charges in a trial that took place after Mrs. Houser’s death.
A Piatt County coroner’s jury originally ruled the cause of death undetermined, but a second inquest in July of this year — more than two decades later — changed that to homicide. State Police said improvements in forensic testing resulted in new evidence in the case, leading to the second coroner’s inquest.
At the most recent inquest, law enforcement officials said a condom was found on the floor between the interior of the home and the garage, where Mrs. Houser was found. Authorities say the condom contained DNA from both Mr. and Mrs. Houser.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Scott Denton also gave his opinion the death was due to manual strangulation and not suicide by hanging.
"This has all the hallmarks of a manual strangulation covered up by the tying of a rope three times around the neck," Denton said at the inquest in July.
Houser was found on the floor of her garage with a rope around her neck on Oct. 5, 1990. Authorities say a latex glove fingertip was found in the turns of the rope, another piece of evidence they say points to homicide.
Although not part of the preliminary hearing on Oct. 7, Bukalski said the defense is also considering a change of venue, which could take the trial out of Piatt County.