Heckendorf, 92, gets 20 years in prison for decades-old sexual assault case

Published: Jul. 5, 2016 at 10:57 AM CDT
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A 92-year-old Wausau man will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for sexually assaulting his granddaughter.

Judge Michael Moran sentenced retired Wausau carpenter Edward Heckendorf to 20 years in prison for the repeated sexual abuse between 1990-1994, when the granddaughter was between seven and 11 years old.

NewsChannel 7 has decided to protect the identity of the sexual assault victims in this article, thus anonymity was granted for journalistic ethics.

"I wanted you (Heckendorf) to admit that it was wrong. That you did this to many people, not just me,” the granddaughter now in her 30s, sober as she read her victim impact statement July 5. “I wanted you to admit you assaulted me and say you're 'sorry.'"

However, Heckendorf did not make an apology or statement when Moran asked if he wished to. The 92-year-old appeared to sob when his attorney talked about Heckendorf’s life.

Peter Rotter, Heckendorf’s lawyer, used what he called his client’s "difficult" life, age and health problems to plead for probation instead of prison. Rotter revealed to the judge Heckendorf was conceived after he said Heckendorf's mother’s cousin raped her.

“Ed’s story begins with rape, and now it appears to end with rape,” Rotter said.

Calling the granddaughter’s rape "wrong," Rotter went onto repeatedly emphasize how Heckendorf was raised in a different time, when that crime or his own child abuse were not usually prosecuted.

At that point, Moran appeared physically agitated by the argument and rejected Heckendorf’s life story as an excuse for abuse.

“I don’t care if it was a different time when people were not convicted,” Moran said. “I’m sorry that doesn’t resonate with this court."

The judge agreed with prosecutors, who for the first time laid out new stories of Heckendorf abusing at least 10 women. Most of them were stories of family members abused as children.

"I think, in fact I know you have been a predator of young children,” Moran said. “And not just children that you know. But children that are related to you."

In addition to the granddaughter’s victim statement, Heckendorf’s niece who identified herself as one of his first victims talked about her repeated abuse. She said it started when she was four-and-a-half-years old, telling the judge how Heckendof’s abuse left her unable to have children.

Another granddaughter, Heidi, who served as a witness during the trial, looked directly at Heckendorf as she talked about decades of pain which lead to a suicide attempt.

While Moran technically sentenced Heckendoft to 20 years for each of the eight counts he was convicted of, he made it a concurrent sentence as Marathon County Deputy District Attorney Theresa Wetzsteon had request.

"It's very difficult, because when you look at the totality of the circumstances and the devastation, I don't know how any sentence ever truly feels like justice,” Wetzsteon said. “I don't feel good about this sentence in that respect."

“I can’t heal any of the wounds,” Moran said. “I wish I could, but I can’t.”

Heckendorf’s sentencing was delayed in May 2016 to allow his defense attorney additional time to have an independent investigator determine proper punishment.

Heckendorf’s February guilty verdict on all eight counts, included five counts of first degree child sexual assault. Court documents said the generations of abuse began in the 1960s.

During the trial, one of Heckendorf’s victims said as a child she would hide under a pool table to avoid him at gatherings. That victim spoke July 5 in court.

While six female victims were identified, charges relating to only one of the cases happening between 1990 to 1993 were pursued because prosecutors said the statute of limitation had expired in the previous cases. However, the case’s judge allowed three of the alleged victims to act as character witnesses during the trial.

Wisconsin law has since been changed so there is no statute of limitation for child sex assault cases, where the victim is under 13 years old.

Before his February conviction, Heckendorf's most recent cases reportedly occurred in 2013 and 2014. During that time, he was accused of grabbing a woman's breast at her place of employment, and asking his granddaughter Heidi how tan her breasts were before she said he grabbed her as well.

Those charges are still pending.

All of the alleged victims said they hesitated coming forward, until learning there were other victims.