"Bedroom Killing of the Northwest Naval Officer"


One of the most sensational murder trials in Washington State history ended on a note of high drama that raised more questions than it answered

Adapted from excerpts from a story by Andy Stack - Published in "True Detective" magazine, June 1981

Like most small communities, there were few secrets the small Naval Air Station town of Oak Harbor. Neighbors know neighbors' business, gossip flourishes. Most of it is small potatoes, but the scandal and shock waves that reverberated throughout Oak Harbor in mid-July 1980 were of a magnitude unlikely to happen ever again.

Four lives were changed irrevocably -- four lives which came together in crushing tragedy from widely scattered parts of the world. One man died instantly in a barrage of bullets from a .357 magnum. The other three principals would tell widely divergent stories during a lengthy trial in Judge H. Joseph Coleman's courtroom in Seattle. There was no question of holding a trial in Island County; there had been too much pre-trial publicity, and there probably wasn't a citizen in the whole county who hadn't heard of the murder of Lt. Commander Dennis Archer.

The testimony that was elicited in Judge Coleman's courtroom was so explosive that spectators lined up to get in, content to sit packed into the rows of hard benches in the overheated room, eager to listen to the almost unbelievable sequence of events which led up to the brutal slaying of the high-ranking naval officer.

The defendants on charges of first degree murder and conspiracy were Dennis Archer's widow, Maria Elena, 32, and Steven Guidry, 26, who had come to Oak Harbor on the fatal weekend from his home in New Orleans. The third figure in an alleged plot to kill Maria's husband had already confessed to conspiracy to commit murder. He was Roland Pitre, also late of New Orleans, a Marine Corps Staff Sergeant and Maria's admitted ex-lover. Pitre was not on trial. He had already turned state's evidence and would appear as a witness for the prosecution.

Steven Guidry sat at the far end of the table next to his lawyer, Richard Hansen. Maria Archer sat three chairs away, next to her lawyer, Gil Mullen. For the prosecution, there was Island County Prosecutors David Thiele, Sergeant Edwards of the sheriff's office served as "friend of the court" for the prosecution. The Archer-Guidry trial was to be one of the few in Washington where both TV and still cameras were allowed into the courtroom.

According to the testimony given in the three-week long trial, none of the principals could have shot Dennis Archer. Each of them points a finger at someone else. It is the sort of stuff that can boggle juries' minds...

Richard Hansen, Steven Guidry's attorney, enlarged upon the defense's belief that Pitre was a liar. "If you convict these two innocent people, that is going to help Roland Pitre. He has a strong incentive to help convict these innocent people to help himself. It would cut off half or probably more of his sentence (due to the fact that Pitre was allowed to plead guilty to second degree murder)."

And so, on New Year's Eve, 1980, the tangle of evidence and testimony went at last to the jury.

After 11 hours, the jury came back. The verdicts: Steven Guidry -- First Degree Murder: Not Guilty. Conspiracy: Not Guilty. Maria Archer -- First Degree Murder: Not Guilty. Conspiracy: Not Guilty.

If ever a murder case was over -- but yet not over at all -- it is the bizarre killing of Dennis Archer. The man about to be sentenced for his murder -- Roland Pitre -- could not have committed the actual crime. The only witnesses, the Archer children, were blocked from testifying in court through motions by the defense, motions that the children, 7 and 10, were too young to be accurate witnesses.

Perhaps, someday, some time, the acid nigglings of conscience will force someone to speak out. A careless word to the wrong person. Only then will Lt. Commander Dennis Archer's death be avenged, and the whole story behind it brought into the light of day.

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