Guilty plea and prison in a rape that once was a cold case


A rape investigation that Howland Police once considered cold case has ended with a guilty plea and a prison sentence.

Jack Sheetz appeared in Trumbull County Court on Wednesday and pleaded guilty to charges filed in connection with the 1996 rape of an elderly Howland woman. The 49-year-old Sheetz was immediately sentenced to nine years in prison.

21-WFMJ TV, The Vindicator's broadcast partner, reports that in September 2016, Howland Police arrested Sheetz in Utica, New York where he had been living.

Local authorities issued a fugitive warrant after new DNA testing helped detectives track down the suspect in the attack and rape of the woman twenty years before.

It was back on December 17, 1996, when the 75-year-old victim told police an unknown man entered her home and threatened her with a screwdriver.

Police believe the suspect was staying at home next door to the victim while working on home repairs.

While the victim survived the incident, even after her death, police didn’t stop searching for answers.

Investigators credit advancements in technology for helping them finally find a suspect in a case that haunted the department for years.

In the fall of 2015, Detectives Tony Villanueva and Jeff Edmundson sent evidence to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s CODIS unit.

The CODIS unit cross checks evidence with DNA samples in a database with samples from convicted felons or felony arrestees.

Run-ins with the law put Sheets' DNA in the system. DNA wasn’t available when they originally sent the evidence in for testing in the case. This time, detectives got a match.

The Trumbull County Grand Jury indicted Sheetz on charges of rape, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery in the case.

Because the crime occurred before current Ohio laws went into effect, Sheetz will not be required to register as a sex offender when he completes his prison sentence.

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