The family of Virginia and Roger Houck said they faced evil incarnate Friday, as the man who killed their loved ones and burned down a Palmer Township home admitted his crimes and was sentenced.
Drew Rose was in Northampton County Court to take a plea deal in the 2019 killings of 97-year-old Virginia Houck and her son Roger Houck, 61. Rose was supposed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and other charges, and in exchange the death penalty would be taken off the table.
When the time came, though, the 39-year-old Rose initially balked at taking the deal, and instead put on the record he was rejecting it and would go to trial in September.
But after an hour of negotiations and preparations, Rose changed out of his red prison jumpsuit and into a suit and dress shirt, returned to the courtroom and pleaded guilty to a handful of charges including two counts of first-degree murder. The handcuffs remained.
“You have demonstrated layer upon layer of human depravity,” Judge Jennifer Sletvold said before sentencing Rose to two consecutive live sentences without parole, plus nine-and-a-half years to 60 years in prison for the other charges. “You took their lives in the most violent, inhumane and despicable way ... You could have stopped at any point.”
Sletvold then detailed the numerous moments when Rose could have stopped his crime spree, and spared the Houcks.
Prosecutors said Rose needed rent money and used cookies as a ruse on Jan. 3, 2019, to get inside Virginia Houck’s home at 2901 Stephens St. to rob it.
Rose strangled Roger Houck, then left the home with Virginia Houck bedridden inside, before returning in the early morning of Jan. 4, 2019. Rose first dragged Roger Houck’s body to the basement, and then dragged Virginia Houck to the basement, covered them both with gasoline and set the house on fire, leaving Virginia Houck to die.
The mother and son were burned beyond recognition, District Attorney Terry Houck said, calling Rose’s crimes “monstrous actions.” Terry Houck is not related to the victims.
“You could have stopped and found your soul, and found your humanity, and you never did,” the judge said. “You never showed an ounce of remorse for those people.”
Stephanie Redding considered Virginia Houck to be her grandmother; Houck took in Redding’s father after his parents died.
“Virginia Houck was one of the most amazing people God has put on this earth,” Redding told the courtroom.
The daughter of a poor immigrant family, Virginia worked hard all of her life. She buried her husband, and then her younger son.
A devout Catholic, she never missed Mass until she was unable to physically go to church, and she loved to swim, Redding said.
“She was the strongest woman I know,” Redding said.
Roger Houck graduated valedictorian from Easton Area High School, and went on to Cornell University before landing a job with Boeing. When he was killed, Roger Houck was preparing for the release of Boeing’s 777X, the world’s largest twin-engine jet.
Roger and his mother talked every night, and he would fly back home multiple times during the year to help take care of his mother, including the last visit, Redding said. His goal was to retire and come home to take care of his mom.
All that ended when Rose killed them, said Redding, whose emotional testimony led to audience members crying in the courtroom.
“The pain and suffering are unreal,” she said. “I have never been this close to real evil ... you are the very essence of what evil is, but you know what, good always prevails over evil.”
Rose’s admission of guilt, his punishment, and the spirit of the Houcks living on in their families were all good.
“In the end, good wins. In the end, God wins,” Redding said.
If Virginia Houck were alive, she would tell her family to forgive Rose and to pray for him, which Redding said they were still struggling to achieve.
“That’s the kind of person she was ... I don’t know how long that takes,” Redding said.
Rose told the court it was hard to accept his actions that day, but that he regrets all of it.
Rose said he was not taking the plea deal to avoid the death penalty, but to avoid having his daughter testify during a penalty phase, which would be traumatic for her.
“I just don’t have two lives to give, I have one life,” he said. “I know I”m never getting out.”
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Sarah Cassi may be reached at email@example.com.