RACINE, Wis. (AP) – The Wisconsin Innocence Project is trying to get a new trial for a Racine man serving 25 years in prison after he was convicted of a 1995 sexual assault.
Two sexual assaults occurred in the same neighborhood within five weeks of each other, about six blocks apart. Daniel Scheidell, who’s now 65, was convicted of attempted first-degree sexual assault in the first attack, and Joseph M. Stephen, 44, was charged last month in the second.
But the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted inmates, believes Stephen committed both assaults. They cite DNA testing that prosecutors say connects Stephen to the second crime, and they say the two attacks were conducted in a similar fashion.
Both victims were single white women who awoke at 5 a.m. to find an attacker straddling them in bed. The attacker had a knife, mask and some sort of additional clothing draped around his head to conceal his face, the Journal Times of Racine reported Sunday.
“That’s not common. Rapes don’t happen this way very often,” Innocence Project co-director Carrie Sperling said. “To have two of them together is just bizarre.”
Rich Chiapete, the Racine County district attorney, said there’s no DNA evidence in Scheidell’s case. He also noted that Scheidell was convicted after a jury trial in which the victim testified she knew Scheidell and that he was her attacker.
But Sperling said the jury didn’t have access to the latest evidence: that Stephen allegedly assaulted the second woman “in a strikingly similar manner” to that in which the first was attacked.
A status hearing in Scheidell’s case is set for Monday.
A message left with Stephen’s attorney Sunday was not immediately returned.
Sperling said Scheidell has been eligible for release for about five years, but he won’t be released because he won’t admit guilt and enter treatment.
Her task is to prove to a Racine County judge there’s reasonable probability that evidence linking Stephen to the second crime would have caused jurors in Scheidell’s trial to have a reasonable doubt.
“We do have a very strong belief that (the jury’s verdict) would be different,” Sperling said.