LARGO — Dwayne Edward Sheppard took the witness stand in his own defense on Wednesday, and came up with an explanation for why his fingerprints turned up on the screen window of the woman he is accused of raping.
He said he used to work for the city of Oldsmar's water division, visiting different homes each day to read meters or check leaks. Whenever he found things strewn on sidewalks, he set them closer to the houses. He said that must have been what he did with this window screen, which police found outside the Oldsmar home where a woman was raped in 1985.
The trial, which is expected to go to the jury today, is unusual because Sheppard was not even a suspect until 20 years after the crime.
A fingerprint expert was going through old cases a couple of years ago, using a fingerprint-matching computer that wasn't available in the 1980s, when she discovered that prints from the rape victim's window screen matched Sheppard's. His prints were in the database after a 1986 arrest.
After Sheppard's testimony Wednesday, assistant state attorney Magda McSwain called the rape victim back to the stand.
Pointing to photos of her old house, the woman explained that the water meter was in the front yard — not near the window and not near where the screen was found.
Pinellas sheriff's Detective Michael Bailey also testified that when he interviewed Sheppard about the crime in 2005, he did not mention that he had worked for the city of Oldsmar. Sheppard, 43, who now lives in New Port Richey, told Bailey he was a painter.
Earlier in the day, Pinellas sheriff's Deputy Kevin Judd told jurors how he spotted Sheppard one night in 1986, walking in a different Oldsmar neighborhood for no apparent reason. Sheppard had women's stockings in his pocket, plus a knife and a small vial of an inhalant. His explanation: A friend of his wanted him to scare some women at a party. But he couldn't find the party.
Prosecutors were trying to draw a parallel with that case and the 1985 rape. The victim had described how an intruder came into her house and threatened her with a knife or scissors, repeatedly sniffed from a small canister, and raped her.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8232.