EASTON, Pa. (AP) — A man prosecutors said baked and took cookies to the home of a 97-year-old bedridden woman before killing her and her adult son and setting fire to their eastern Pennsylvania home has been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Drew Rose, 39, of Bethlehem pleaded guilty Friday in Northampton County Court of Common Pleas to criminal homicide, burglary, arson and robbery in the January 2019 slayings of Virginia Houck and 61-year-old Roger Houck in Palmer Township. Prosecutors earlier announced plans to seek capital punishment but took the death penalty off the table as part of the plea agreement.
Authorities said Houck, son of a former caretaker of Virginia Houck, needed rent money and hatched a scheme to rob the woman. Police say his ex-girlfriend told a grand jury that Rose arrived at the house with the cookies and told her son he was a family friend who had worked for his mother, but once inside, ordered the man to buy items online for him and have them shipped to the residence.
When Roger Houck refused, prosecutors allege, Rose assaulted and strangled him, fleeing with $280. Prosecutors allege that he returned in the early morning hours, tied up the woman and threw her down the basement steps before setting the home on fire. A coroner said Virginia Houck was found still bound and died of smoke inhalation and burns, while her son, also bound at the feet, died of “homicidal violence.”
“This is one of the most monstrously evil cases I have ever witnessed,” said District Attorney Terry Houck, who is not related to the victims.
Although the plea agreement spares Rose the possibility of a death sentence, the prosecutor pointed out that Pennsylvania hasn’t carried out a death sentence in decades. He said he “didn’t want to depreciate one iota what these people went through before they died.”
Judge Jennifer Sletvold sentenced Rose to two consecutive life terms without parole plus 9 1/2 to 60 years, saying he had “demonstrated layer upon layer of human depravity.”
“You took their lives in the most violent, inhumane and despicable way,” she said.
“You could have stopped and found your soul, and found your humanity, and you never did,” she added. “You never showed an ounce of remorse for those people.”
Stephanie Redding, who considered Virginia Houck her grandmother — Houck took in Redding’s father after his parents died — called her “one of the most amazing people God has put on this earth.” A devout Catholic, Virginia Houck would tell her family to forgive and pray for Rose, something Redding said they were still struggling to do.
“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, lehighvalleylive.com reported. He said he wasn’t taking the plea deal to avoid the death penalty but to spare his daughter the trauma of having to testify.
“I just don’t have two lives to give, I have one life,” he said. “I know I’m never getting out.”