Court of Appeals upholds convictions and 650 year sentence of a Greensburg man in Shelby County

From Shelby County Prosecutor James Landwerlen

Date of Release: June 26, 2023
The Indiana Court of Appeals today issued an opinion upholding all
convictions and the 650 year sentence for Steven Ray Hessler – the serial home-
invasion rapist who terrorized Shelbyville in the early-mid 1980s. He was
sentenced on April 1, 2022 to 650 years in prison today for 2 counts of Rape, 6
counts of Unlawful Deviate Conduct, 7 counts of Burglary Resulting In Bodily
Injury, 3 counts of Criminal Deviate Conduct, and one count of Robbery –
each as a Class A Felony. The charges stem from a series of home-invasion
sexual assaults from 1982-1985. He was convicted on March 3rd after an 8-day

Hessler terrorized the Shelby County area between August 14, 1982 and
August 17, 1985 – breaking into several homes in the middle of the night while
armed and wearing a mask, and attacking, raping, binding, threatening, and
sexually torturing several local women (and one 16 year-old child). Many of
the victims were tied up – others were not – as he stole cash and other certain
items before sexually brutalizing the women. In his final local assault, he
struck a male victim several times with a gun (once the male victim was
handcuffed and hog-tied), resulting in that victim being in a coma for months,
and then a rehab facility for several more months, learning again to talk, and to
walk with 2 canes (though he fell daily, and for years now has been confined to
a wheelchair). The local attacks stopped in the late 1980s. We found that
Hessler had been convicted of a rape in another county in the late 1980s (when
our attacks stopped), and received a 20 year sentence. (He was unfortunately
released from the Department Of Corrections about 2 months before a
requirement took effect that requires inmates to submit a DNA sample, or we
would have had his DNA and a match years ago).
Hessler was generally very cautious, wiping down the scene and taking items
that he had touched with him. Fortunately, he left some DNA at one scene
(though DNA was not then yet used for forensic investigations). At the
recommendation of retired Indiana State Trooper Mike Kolls (who worked
with the original task force investigating the attacks), we sent some of the
DNA to Parabon Nanolabs, who specializes in Geneological DNA
Identification. (Parabon also solved the Golden State Killer case with this
technology). Parabon sent back results that caused us to focus on Hessler and
one other person. Eventually, we were able to obtain Hessler’s DNA sample

from an envelope he licked to send in a utility payment, and it matched the
DNA from the scene.
The prosecution was made more difficult because a previous task force had
arrested and charged another local man with the first few of the attacks in 1983
(in an odd turn of events – that man turned out to be Hessler’s cousin). Further
investigation confirmed that person’s alibis for the evenings of certain attacks,
as well as other information that led to dismissal of the case (but this still
created an additional hurdle for us to address in this trial). Another suspect
came up in trial as well – Michael Kenyan (aka – the “Illinois Enema Bandit”),
who had committed a series of home-invasion sexual attacks similar to ours in
the late 1970s, and who had been released from prison before our attacks
began (Frank Zappa even wrote a song about him, which was brought up
during our trial). Our office sent officers out to Arizona in 2004, where
Kenyan lives now, to obtain DNA, interview Kenyan, and perform a forensic
examination of his computer, which eliminated him as a suspect.
After receiving the DNA results matching Hessler to the DNA at one scene, we
executed a search warrant at Hessler’s residence in the early morning hours on
August 17, 2020, where we hit a bit of a gold mine. We located photographs
stolen from one local victim, and computers which showed that he had been
researching and tracking down the 2 victims from that attack as well as 2 of
our other victims (he had even downloaded a Google Earth streetview photo of
one victim’s house in Georgia). He had also been similarly cyberstalking the
victim from his previous attempted rape conviction. We also located certain
coats that matched coats described by some of the victims, with ski masks in
the pockets, and various specific items that matched items used in various of
the attacks, such as handcuffs, enema bags, multiple containers of Vaseline,
etc. We located other items of interest – such as about 30 women’s panties,
each individually baggied. He stole panties in some of our local attacks,
though after this passage of time, none could be identified by our victims as
being theirs.
The most recent detectives to work (and solve) the investigation are Shelby
County Sheriff’s Detective David Tilford and Indiana State Police Detective
Paul Baker, but without several prior investigators doing things correctly, we
would have still been unable to prove the case. Huge credit also goes out to
the Indiana State Police Crime Laboratory, who allowed exceptions to their
evidence submission limits and conducted a mountain of DNA analysis and
forensic computer/digital media examinations – both leading to some truly
damning evidence.
I was assisted in the prosecution of the case by Chief Deputy Prosecutor Scott
Spears and Deputy Prosecutor Brandon Robinson (and I couldn’t be more
proud of them both). It took everything the 3 of us had, plus the detectives and
the coordinated assistance of many others) to complete the investigation and
prosecution of this huge case, which had been investigated by various officers,
agencies, and task forces throughout the years. Coordinating the trial also
proved to be quite a task, as we called 27 witnesses – some repeatedly (up to 6

times), and whittled thousands of pieces of possible evidence down to just over
300 exhibits actually admitted. We had to bring in witnesses from Florida,
Georgia, and Ohio, as well as a Secret Service computer technician from the
east coast. Various other agencies played varying roles to solve and to bring
this case to trial as well (including but not limited to Shelbyville Police
Department, Rush County Sheriff’s Department, Rushville Police Department,
Secret Service, various FBI agents, Greensburg PD, Decatur County Sheriff’s
Dept., Decatur County Prosecutor’s Office, a detective with San Antonio
Police Department, an officer with the Canton, Ohio Police Department, police
officers in Arizona and Illinois, etc). Huge credit also goes out to the Indiana
State Police Crime Lab, who, in an extremely rare move, lifted the restrictions
on the number of exhibits that they would accept for DNA analysis and
forensic computer analysis.
Steven Ray Hessler is one of the most evil, dangerous, sadistic predators that
I’ve had the pleasure of prosecuting in my 30+ year career. He derived great
pleasure from his unnecessarily brutal methods of terrorizing and sexually
torturing his victims. I promised the victims early-on that my goal would be
that he go to prison the rest of his life, and all involved are very happy that we
have achieved that goal.
The appeal focused on 3 issues: Alleged prosecutorial misconduct, Double
Jeopardy, and a claim that the 650 year sentence was too long considering his
offenses and his character. Of the 32 instances of what the defense claimed
were prosecutorial misconduct, the Court found that the claims were
unsupported by the facts, and that they did not place the defendant in grave
legal peril. As to the double jeopardy claim, the defense claimed that the same
injury could not be used to elevate the level of offense for the sex crimes he
committed and also the burglary counts. 2 of the 3-judge panel of the Court of
Appeals disagreed with this claim, while 1 judge sided with the defense. But
all 3 judges agreed that the aggravate sentence of 650 years was justified.
Hessler can now ask the Supreme Court to take a look at the case, which the
Supreme Court can either accept or decline.
I have contacted the victims that I could contact to notify them that the Court
of Appeals ruled against Hessler, and they are very happy with the news.

News Release by Brad Landwerlen, Shelby County Prosecuting Attorney

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