Angie LaSarte’s family cried tears of relief Monday as the jury’s verdict was announced.
Don Houser: Guilty of second-degree murder.
“There is justice,” sighed Christy Crowe, Angie LaSarte’s niece.
On June 10, Houser shot LaSarte in the neck with a handgun during a fight at Bobbi’s bar in Plummer, Idaho. LaSarte, a 49-year-old mother of four, died a short time later.
Houser said the shooting was an accident. But after 6-1/2 hours of deliberation Monday, a jury decided it was murder.
The jury also found Houser guilty of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.
LaSarte was the daughter of longtime tribal chairman Bernard “Happy” LaSarte.
“She was a very good mother,” Crowe said. “She did anything for anybody.”
Houser, 22, of Plummer and LaSarte began dating in September 1993. The relationship was laced with violence. Several witnesses described watching Houser beat up LaSarte and even threaten to kill the woman.
“They saw bruises, pulled-out clumps of hair and sunglasses covering black eyes,” said U.S. attorney James Peters, who prosecuted the case. “Mr. Houser was a fuse waiting to explode.”
However, Houser testified that he was the victim of an abusive woman.
On June 10, both showed up at Bobbi’s bar. They had broken up weeks earlier. That night, Houser got into a fight with a man LaSarte was sitting next to.
Houser went out to his truck and got a gun. He testified that he intended to use it only as protection from angry people at the bar. But LaSarte followed Houser outside and he shot her in the neck.
Houser testified that he and LaSarte struggled over the gun and it accidentally fired. But two witnesses told the jury that Houser grabbed LaSarte and shot her before she could defend herself.
LaSarte’s family said the trial was difficult for them. Almost a dozen family members - including LaSarte’s children - watched the testimony every day. On Monday, Angella, LaSarte’s 16-year-old daughter, sat with her hand over her mouth waiting for the verdict.
With the verdict came sighs of relief as well as tears from LaSarte’s family. Houser’s family watched in silence, some sobbing in disappointment at the verdict.
The case was tried in federal court because the crime happened on the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Reservation.
Peters said he suspects Houser will face 17 to 19 years in prison, since he will be sentenced according to federal guidelines. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 12.
“In some ways it’s an end and in some ways it’s a beginning,” said Ray LaSarte, who was close to his sister. “I’m going to have to rebuild my life now.”
On Sunday, the family visited the dead woman’s grave. Annie Schoolcraft, LaSarte’s niece, said she could see then the toll the trial has taken, especially on LaSarte’s young son.
“It had to be the hardest thing, seeing a 6-year-old cry for his mother,” she said.