NewsChannel 7 Investigates | Wisconsin Attorney General: ‘Impossible’ to change statute of limitation
Despite many of Edward Heckendorf’s nieces and granddaughters alleging years of sexual abuse, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel tells NewsChannel 7 Investigates there is no way to change the statute of limitation law prosecutors say ultimately prevented them from pressing additional criminal charges.
“It's impossible to go back further,” Schimel said. “And really right now we've effectively done all we can. Because the United States Constitution, and the Wisconsin Constitution, provide you can't impose an ex-post facto law. Meaning you can't go back and make something illegal years later.”
Starting in the late 1980s, lawmakers started and then kept changing Wisconsin's statute of limitation, making it so sexual assault victims under 13 now have a lifetime to press charges.
Heckendorf was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting his granddaughter when she was seven to 11-years-old, between April 1990-April 1994.
Marathon County Deputy District Attorney Theresa Wetzsteon, who prosecuted the Heckendorf case, said because most of Heckendorf’s other alleged victims were older when coming forward, that meant prosecutors could only peruse charges on behalf of the youngest victim.
“So the reality is the delay in reporting sexual assaults is more common than not. So how long a person can still seek justice is determined by the statute of limitation,” Wetzsteon said. “I have seen many cases that have been reported where, as far as being able to prosecute the case, we cannot.”
One of the six Heckendorf family members Wetzsteon said she could not file charges on behalf of, Heidi, feels there is a loophole in the system.
“As people get older, and they have different triggers, they should be able to speak out, “ Heidi said. “And I think whether it happened yesterday or 30-years-ago, it still happened. And it had an effect. And I think they should be prosecuted for that. And I think they should be held accountable for their actions.”
Heidi said while her abuse stopped as a child, she still had to see her grandfather for more than three decades at family functions. According to a Marathon County Sheriff's report Heidi filed two years ago, Heckendorf, then 90-years-old, put his hands down her shirt.
“It has to stop. And the buck stops here. And that's the stand I took,” Heidi said. “The second time I had enough. And I didn't want anyone to feel what I went through. Or what I feel today.”
At the time the report showed Heckendorf told an officer he did not ‘know what's wrong with him other than he likes breasts and boobs,' going on to say, ‘he was just attempting to pick up the strap on her bathing suit.’
Heidi’s police report was the first of five other family members coming forward and filing reports. However, the statute of limitation made it so the judge only allowed her and two other family members to testify during the trial. Heidi calls that time an emotional roller coaster.
“No, there should be no statute of limitations,” Heidi said. “It has to stop somewhere. The bleeding has to stop. It's not just allowing people to come forward. But it’s also ‘how do we prevent people from ever being a victim?’ ”
Wetzsteon feels even though revising the statute of limitation would be difficult, she said cases like Heckendorfs’ show why it needs to happen. The deputy district attorney also said the Heckendorf case shows why having witnesses who cannot press criminal charges, like Heidi, are important.
Heidi, Wetzsteon said, along with the other witnesses were able to help establish an abuse pattern, which she said helped prosecutors get a conviction against Heckendorf.
The charges from Heidi’s 2014 case against Heckendorf are still pending.
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