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Oregon court ruling could eliminate death penalty for many; Randy Guzek prosecutor outraged

(Update: Adding video, comments by Randy Guzek prosecutor Joshua Marquis)

(BEND, Ore.) KTVZ -- An Oregon Supreme Court ruling on Thursday may mean a number of death row inmates, including Terrebonne double-murderer Randy Guzek, may see their death sentence reversed and could even be granted parole.

The Oregon Supreme Court struck down the death sentence of an inmate in a ruling Thursday that found lawmakers had fundamentally altered “prevailing societal standards” for executions with a 2019 law change.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports experts believe the decision could eliminate the death sentence for all inmates facing the penalty, in a state where a moratorium on executions by the current and former governor, Democrats John Kitzhaber and Kate Brown, means no inmate has been put to death since 1997.

The potential impact of voiding most if not all Oregon death penalties outraged the former Deschutes County prosecutor who convinced juries to re-sentence Terrebonne double-murderer Randy Lee Guzek to death three times.

Joshua Marquis, who served as chief deputy district attorney in Deschutes County in the early '90s, told NewsChannel 21 the decision could mean Guzek is granted parole. Marquis, who later was elected the Clatsop County DA, also was a special prosecutor who handled Guzek's three sentencing-phase retrials, the most recent in 2010.

"There is a very good chance that Randy Guzek will roam the streets of Deschutes County at some point in the next few years, which is something that is frankly terrifying,” Marquis said.

In his 37 years as a prosecutor, Marquis said he only sought the death penalty once, against Guzek.

State lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1013 in 2019. The bill narrowed what crimes qualify as aggravated murder — the only charge that carries capital punishment in Oregon — to murders of children younger than 14 years old, murders of law-enforcement officers, terrorist attacks that kill at least two people, and prison killings carried out by someone who’d previously been convicted of murder. That’s a narrower scope than what formerly constituted aggravated murder.

While the law change included a provision that did not make it retroactive, the court’s ruling appears to do that, relying on a section of the state’s Constitution that prohibits disproportionate punishments.

“My expectation is that every death sentence that is currently in place will be overturned as a result of this,” said Jeffrey Ellis, co-director of the Oregon Capital Resource Center.

The ruling Thursday stems from the case of David Bartol, who killed Gavin Siscel on June 4, 2013 in the Marion County Jail. At the time, Bartol was awaiting trial in a separate case.

The Oregon Supreme Court upheld Bartol’s conviction, but ordered him resentenced, likely for first-degree murder, which is punishable by life in prison rather than death.

“The enactment of SB 1013 reflects a legislative determination that, regardless of when it was committed, the conduct that had constituted ‘aggravated murder’ does not fall within the narrow category of conduct for which the death penalty is appropriate,” the court wrote in its opinion. “Given that determination, we conclude that, although the legislature did not make SB 1013 retroactive as to sentences imposed before its effective date, maintaining defendant’s death sentence would violate Article I, section 16 (of the Oregon Constitution.)”

Guzek was 18 at the time of the brutal slayings of a Terrebonne couple, Rod and Lois Houser, in 1987 and was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder the following year. The Oregon Supreme Court affirmed those convictions in 1990, but three times since had ordered new penalty-phase trials under the automatic reviews required in the state court and death penalty process. The Oregon Supreme Court upheld the latest death penalty in 2015.

Two other men involved in the shooting and stabbing deaths, Mark Wilson and David Cathey, received life sentences after testifying against Guzek, who is one of 36 people on Oregon’s death Row. The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1997.

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel told NewsChannel 21: "We are reviewing the matter and will consult with the Department of Justice. If there are resentencing hearings that happen, they will be months down the road and victims’ families will be notified and have the opportunity to address the court at sentencing."

Marquis, a proponent of capital punishment in heinous murders, provided this initial statement to NewsChannel 21:

"The Supreme Court today completed the trifecta started by Governor Brown, AG (Oregon Attorney General Ellen) Rosenblum and the Democratic leadership in functionally retroactively abolishing the death penalty in Oregon for all except maybe four or five killers.

"In a decision issued this morning, the court held that the death sentence of a Marion County murderer should have his death sentence reversed - permanently, on the basis that despite the law, which does not make SB 1013 passed last session limiting the murders for which death can be a penalty, that the bill reflected the "moral judgment " of the people of the state that the death penalty should be virtually eliminated.

"This despite polls that show the opposite. This is politics of the elites, writ large by a highly politicized state Supreme Court, have been shown to override the will of the voters and despite the fact that SB 1013 achieved only a bare majority, and most of those legislators did not even understand what they were voting on.

"As a result, people like Randy Guzek, who murdered Rod and Lois Houser in Deschutes County in the summer of 1987, who has been four times sentenced to death by 48 different jurors, will now be eligible for immediate parole.
This decision flies in the face of the rule of law as espoused by John Adams, who said, 'We are a nation of laws, not a nation of men (or  women)'."

Marquis also said Thursday's ruling "cannot be appealed to the federal or US supreme courts, bcause they made clear they were deciding it on state grounds on the last page of their decision."

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts

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