There’s nothing just and fair, Bernice LaSarte said Monday of the punishment given to her sister’s killer. “After 15 years my sister will still be dead.”
Donald Houser, 22, of Plummer, will spend 10 years in federal prison for shooting his ex-girlfriend, 49-year-old Angie LaSarte, in the neck outside of Bobbi’s Bar in Plummer last June.
He must serve an additional five years in prison for possession of a firearm during a crime of violence - the mandatory federal sentence. Houser could have received up to 19 years for the second-degree murder and firearms convictions.
LaSarte’s tearful family members told the court of their emotional scars. Her youngest son continues to go up to strangers in restaurants and say “Donny killed my mom. … I hate Donny,” said Gene James, LaSarte’s ex-husband.
James and LaSarte had five children during their marriage. One has considered suicide since the murder; two are in counseling, James said. While he generally praised the judicial system, he found it inadequate.
“No matter what (the sentence) is, Angie is dead, Don is alive,” James said. “I don’t see a lot of balance in that.”
Houser’s sobbing mother was as adamant about the tragedy of losing her son to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Ann Houser pleaded with the court to consider the good things about her son, who helped take care of his brother since he was paralyzed in an automobile accident.
“He may have made a bad judgment … please don’t punish us all,” Ann Houser said.
Looking vacant and weary, in a blue and white striped shirt and blue jeans, Houser spent much of the three-hour hearing rubbing his mouth and nose with his hand while staring straight ahead.
Just before the judge pronounced the sentence, Houser apologized in halting words.
“I express my remorse and deepest sympathy out to the family, especially the children and ex-husband,” he said. “It wouldn’t have happened if I had not gotten the gun, which I shouldn’t have done.”
His attorneys asked for a new trial, on the grounds that the instructions to the jury were flawed. They also argued for the most lenient sentence - 14 years in prison.
Roger Peven, assistant U.S. Public Defender, talked about Houser being a model prisoner, and as someone who always has been more concerned about the victim than himself.
But U.S. Attorney James Peters noted that violence was part of Houser’s past.
Houser had hit another man in the cheek with a gun during an incident that also occurred outside a bar.
And he’d fired five bullets into a tree to scare a different girlfriend.
U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge’s words to Houser were kind, but cautionary.
“The court cannot ignore the pre-sentence report that shows you have placed a gun in your hand when you were in a violent mood,” Lodge said.
Instead of imposing a fine, he ordered Houser to get alcohol counseling, and counseling for his anger problems.
“I think you know now there is no right way to do the wrong thing,” Lodge said.
“And if you ever get to feeling sorry for yourself, remember the children of the victim, and the family, suffer every day.”