Trial set to begin in Mansfield hanging

 

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MONTICELLO — A year after a Piatt County coroner's jury ruled that the death 27 years ago of a rural Mahomet woman was a homicide, her estranged husband is about to be tried for her murder.

Jury selection is to begin this morning in the case of Gregory Houser, 56, of Mansfield, charged with the first-degree murder of Sheryl Ann Houser on Oct. 4 or 5, 1990.

Mrs. Houser, 29, a mother of three sons, was found on the floor of the garage of the family home, her shoulders suspended off the floor by a yellow nylon rope wound multiple times around her neck. There was a ladder nearby.

Concerned co-workers of the Carle Foundation Hospital nurse phoned authorities when she did not show up for work Oct. 5.

A forensic pathologist who reviewed the case in 2011 concluded that Mrs. Houser died of strangulation and that someone attempted to make it appear as if she had hanged herself.

Piatt County and Illinois State Police investigators learned that the Housers were going through a difficult divorce and were taking turns living in the house with their boys.

About two weeks before her death, Mrs. Houser had filed a report with the Piatt County sheriff that her husband had sexually assaulted her in their home, using a yellow nylon rope to try to tie her to the bed.

Houser was charged but acquitted of that. Jurors are expected to hear that information.

The trial is the first murder trial in recent memory in the small county of about 16,700 people.

Of that population, 80 are expected to show up for service as potential jurors, about 20 more than are summoned for a normal jury term. Jury trials are heard four times a year in Piatt County.

Judge Karle Koritz is presiding. This is the first murder trial for him as a judge since his appointment to the bench in November 2014. Koritz is a former prosecutor.

Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Dobson, a veteran of many murder prosecutions in Champaign and Macon counties, will prosecute Houser along with Piatt County State's Attorney Dana Rhoades.

Houser is represented by Bloomington attorneys Kevin Sanborn and Todd Ringel, both of whom have represented clients accused of murder before. Both defense attorneys are also former prosecutors.

The case is expected to last two weeks. Court records show subpoenas were issued to more than 60 potential witnesses.

Houser has been in custody since Sept. 22.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).