Man sentenced to 25 years for 1981 Cape Girardeau rape

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Linda Propst Dedert was raped in November 1981. She was assaulted in her own home at knife point. Her assailant placed her own shirt over her head, tied her up and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. She was a victim, always looking over her shoulder. Always wondering whether to trust the person on the other side of the door. Until now.

"Not anymore," she said Tuesday, minutes after Judge Benjamin Lewis handed down a 25-year sentence to Charles Eugene O'Howell, 50, inside a Cape Girardeau County courtroom. "I am a survivor."

O'Howell, who currently is serving a 55-year sentence for a 1982 burglary, kidnapping and rape, was set to go to trial for a separate robbery charge and the rape of Dedert later this month. He instead changed his plea to guilty for both offenses during a court appearance Tuesday. His attorney, Chris Heeb, asked Lewis for concurrent sentences as part of a plea deal, but was denied.

"Nobody gets a free rape," Lewis told O'Howell, sentencing him to 25 years to be served consecutively for the rape charge and 10 years for an unrelated robbery charge to be served concurrently with the current prison sentence, on which O'Howell has 25 years remaining.

Charges in the 1981 sexual assault of Dedert came in 2011 after Det. Jimmy Smith of the Cape Girardeau Police Department sent evidence in a rape kit to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab for analysis and O'Howell's DNA was determined a match.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said at the time that the prosecution would ask for a consecutive sentence for O'Howell if he were convicted. Robbery charges were also brought when O'Howell told investigators during interviews about Dedert's rape that he broke into a Cape Girardeau home in February 1982 and robbed a resident at gunpoint.

Dedert addressed the court Tuesday before the sentencing and asked Lewis to not allow O'Howell an opportunity to leave prison.

"I will never be free of the fear from that horrendous night," she said. "I will live with it for the rest of my life, looking over my shoulder, worrying when someone follows me walking and the extra precaution I always take when someone knocks on my front door. This has become a life sentence for me."

On Nov. 15, 1981, O'Howell knocked on Dedert's front door at her Cape Girardeau home and asked to use the phone, claiming he had car trouble, according to court documents. She told police she took a number from him through a crack in the door just before he pushed it open and held a knife to her throat, raped her and told her if she told anyone he would return and kill her.

"I believed that he would," Dedert said in court Tuesday.

Lewis asked O'Howell if he had any response following the address to the court by Dedert.

"After listening to her statement, there's nothing I can say," O'Howell answered.

Heeb told the court O'Howell should be considered to receive a concurrent sentence since he had been cooperative with police and the courts and made the decision to enter guilty pleas, which was an effort "to try to lessen the impact on the victim" by sparing Dedert from undergoing cross-examination during court proceedings.

Dedert said Tuesday she was glad the case will not go to trial and feels relieved her ordeal can come to a close. She was unsure for many years, she said, that the case would ever be solved and that the perpetrator would be found and convicted. She said she knows now that reporting the rape to police and going to the hospital to have evidence taken was worth the fear she felt at the time.

"I feel so light, finally. If not for that ... I am happy I did it," she said.

O'Howell was a 21-year-old soldier at home on leave in 1982 when he kidnapped a 15-year-old girl at gunpoint from her home in Twin Lakes subdivision and led around 30 law enforcement officers on a manhunt that ended with his arrest by a former Cape Girardeau police officer in Klaus Park. Southeast Missourian archives from the time contain statements from authorities that the girl was forced to trudge barefoot through a mile of woods, brush and high grass and was then raped and held captive by O'Howell until their location was discovered and he was overpowered by the former officer. O'Howell was also charged with first-degree burglary and felony stealing and convicted on both counts for breaking into another home the day before the kidnapping and stealing two guns.

A judge in 1982 denied a request for a change of venue in the case, which was requested by O'Howell's attorney due to "prejudicial, pretrial publicity." Attorneys again in 2011 asked for a change of venue due to media coverage after the charges were filed in Dedert's case, but were denied.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

100 Court St., Jackson, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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