RACINE — For the first time in 20 years, Daniel Scheidell is going home.
Until late last month, Scheidell, 66, was serving a 25-year prison sentence for a May 20, 1995, attack on a former co-worker. She identified him as her attacker although the assailant was wearing a mask and never spoke, and a jury convicted him. But Scheidell has maintained his innocence for two decades.
Last month, Racine County Circuit Court Judge John Jude overturned Scheidell’s conviction and ruled that he deserves a new trial. That wiped out his conviction, and set the clock back, in essence, to shortly after he was charged in 1995.
During a hearing on Friday, Jude agreed to change Scheidell’s bond, setting a $10,000 co-signature bond for the Racine man.
Scheidell’s attorneys argued that he uses a colostomy bag — he had colon cancer and much of his colon was removed — and he is in a wheelchair, so he poses no threat to the community.
One of his defense attorneys, Steven Hughes with the Wisconsin Innocence Project, argued he was concerned about Scheidell’s health should he remain jailed. He said he was not given all the doses of his prescribed pain medication when he was transferred to the Racine County Jail.
He argued Scheidell isn’t a flight risk, either.
“Dan has been parole-eligible for the last three years, but it was unavailable to him because he refused to admit to a crime he didn’t do,” Hughes said.
During the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Tricia Hanson objected to modifying Scheidell’s bond, saying it should remain at $125,000 — the amount set in 1995 after he was charged.
“Twelve of his peers did convict him of this at one time. The victim is still present in the area. He has no home. He has no assets. He has no job. Now we know there is family and he could have help (fleeing),” Hanson said. “The change in circumstance (being returned to the Racine County Jail) is brought about by his motion (for a new trial).”
‘Grateful that he’s coming home’
Scheidell was expected to be released from the Racine County Jail by Friday evening. He will be on house arrest at his brother’s home, except for meeting with his attorneys, going to court and going to medical appointments.
“We’re just grateful that he’s coming home,” Racine resident Kathy Heisler, Scheidell’s sister, said after the hearing, thanking members of the Wisconsin Innocence Project for their work on the case.
Racine County prosecutors hope to appeal Jude’s ruling overturning the conviction and sending the case back for another trial. Hanson said staff with the Attorney General’s Office have until Aug. 7 to notify them as to whether the Attorney General’s Office will appeal. She said Assistant District Attorney Randy Schneider “is confident they will appeal.”
Scheidell’s sister and his defense attorneys from the Wisconsin Innocence Project have been trying to clear his name. They’ve been working to make the case that another man — then-Racine resident Joseph M. Stephen, now 45 — tried to rape the Racine woman whom Scheidell was convicted of attacking. They have argued that Stephen was a serial rapist who might have attacked this woman at knifepoint, as well as a second woman about five weeks later.
It wasn’t until members of the Wisconsin Innocence Project began investigating Scheidell’s case that the rape kit collected in the attack later that year was submitted to the State Crime Lab for DNA testing, court records show. A DNA match came back to Stephen on July 23, 2013, according to his criminal complaint, and Racine County prosecutors then charged Stephen last summer in that June 1995 attempted rape.
But Jude then had to dismiss the case against Stephen in September, because the statute of limitations had expired. Stephen now can never be prosecuted for that alleged attack.
Jude ruled in June that Scheidell is entitled to a new trial based in large part on the newly-discovered DNA evidence that Stephen — who’s currently serving prison time for an unrelated December 1998 Racine sexual assault — committed the “eerily similar” crime on June 27, 1995, nearby in Racine.
“We’re just grateful that he’s coming home.” — Racine resident Kathy Heisler, Daniel G. Scheidell’s sister