Two attempted rapes in Racine, Wisconsin share striking similarities.  Each occurred at 5 a.m.  They happened six blocks from each other, five weeks apart.  Both were single, white women living alone.  Each woman awoke to an attacker straddling her in bed with a knife and a mask.  Not only did the attacker wear a mask, he also wore a nylon jacket or sweatshirt around his head.  The attacker entered through an elevated window.

So were the attacks committed by the same man or two different men?

Daniel Scheidell’s attorneys at the Wisconsin Innocence Project contend that it is too coincidental not to be committed by the same perpetrator.  The police and prosecutors contend that the attacks, while similar, were committed by two different men and Scheidell committed the first one.

“That’s not common. Rapes don’t happen this way very often,” said Wisconsin Innocence Project Co-Director Carrie Sperling, who is fighting for a new trial for Scheidell.

Before Scheidell, now 65, was convicted of attempted rape, his trial lawyer, Debra Patterson, wrote in a 1995 letter that a probation officer revealed the Racine PD circulated a memo which stated that they believed there was a serial rapist in the area at the time.

New DNA evidence in the second attack points to Joseph Stephen, a convicted sex offender, and because the attacks are similar, Sperling hopes that Scheidell will get a new trial.  Scheidell is currently serving a 25 year sentence.  Stephen was charged in July with the second attack.

Scheidell “has been eligible for release for…maybe five years now, but he won’t be released because he won’t admit guilt and go into treatment. He’s been up [for parole] several times,” Sperling said.  It is common for parole boards to require an admittance of guilt and acceptance of responsibility, along with remorse for the committed crime.  In cases of innocence claims, getting parole or early release can be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The attack that Scheidell was convicted of occurred on May 20, 1995, the attack that Stephen is now accused of occurred on June 27, 1995.

In Scheidell’s motion for a new trial, Sperling writes that the “newly discovered evidence that Stephen assaulted [the second victim] in a strikingly similar manner to [the first victim, which Scheidell was convicted of attacking] is critical to a full trial on the key issue of [assailant] identity.”  Scheidell’s jury never heard evidence that there could have been an alternative perpetrator, perhaps a serial rapist.  Sperling says in the motion that she can now prove what Scheidell has long maintained and what the Racine PD initially suspected after the first attack, that there was a serial rapist and that it was Stephen.

For now, she has to prove to a  judge that “there’s reasonable probability” that evidence linking Stephen is too “eerily similar” and that it would have caused jurors in Scheidell’s case “to have reasonable doubt”.


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