Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rape victim gets day in court 23 years later

Dwayne Edward Sheppard, now 43, is accused of sexual battery of a then 25-year-old woman 23 years ago.


Dwayne Edward Sheppard, now 43, is accused of sexual battery of a then 25-year-old woman 23 years ago.

LARGO — Twenty-three years ago, she was a 25-year-old mother in bed with her young daughter.

She awoke to find a naked man standing beside her. He threatened her with a sharp blade.

On Tuesday, the woman sat in the witness stand in a Pinellas courtroom and relived that night, hoping for justice nearly a quarter-century later.

"I tried to talk him out of it," the woman recalled, wiping away tears.

She then told jurors how the intruder forced her into the living room and raped her while her 5-year-old daughter slept.

The St. Petersburg Times is not naming the woman because of the nature of the crime.

For Dwayne Edward Sheppard, the trial that began on Tuesday is either a horrible mistake or the long-delayed consequence of a decades-old crime.

Sheppard, whose last known address is in New Port Richey, is charged with sexual battery. A conviction could put him in prison for decades.

His attorney told jurors that the evidence linking him to the crime is insufficient.

As the victim fought through tears to tell her story, it was clear that 23 years had not erased the pain of what happened to her.

She explained how the intruder sat her down on the living room carpet. He talked dirty and paused often to sniff something from a silver canister.

After the man raped her, he made her shower, perhaps to wash away evidence. Then he left.

The woman's daughter was not harmed.

The woman called her boyfriend, who dialed authorities.

Pinellas sheriff's deputies and technicians found what could prove to be a crucial piece of evidence: A fingerprint on a window screen the intruder had knocked out to get inside.

But no one knew whose print it was. The case remained unsolved for two decades.

But a few years ago, a Pinellas sheriff's official spent part of her day using a computer program that matches fingerprints. It's a more sophisticated tool than police had in 1985, so authorities use it to look for new clues in old crimes.

And in this case, Assistant State Attorney Della Connolly said, putting the old fingerprint in the program yielded a new result: It matched a print that had been taken from Sheppard during another arrest.

Connolly said there is other evidence linking Sheppard, now 43, to the crime: He had a good friend he sometimes visited close to the victim; and a witness saw someone get out of a car similar to Sheppard's on the night of the crime.

But Assistant Public Defender Nicola Brown said that's not enough.

She said there's no way to tell if the fingerprint was left on the screen on the night of the attack. She also noted the screen was found outside the house. And even though the attack may have taken as long as 90 minutes, none of Sheppard's fingerprints was found inside the home, she said.

The trial resumes today.

Rape victim gets day in court 23 years later 12/02/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 3, 2008 3:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. South Florida poaches debris pickup trucks once slotted for Tampa, officials say


    TAMPA — A week into the job of picking up an estimated 300,000 cubic yards of Hurricane Irma debris from its streets, Tampa City Hall is finding to its dismay that the challenge is more competitive than expected.

    A city of Tampa truck loaded with debris from Hurricane Irma pulls into a temporary storage yard on N Rome Avenue Friday morning. There, workers from Tetra Tech, the city's debris monitoring contractor, photograph and check the load from an elevated platform to create a record that the city can use later to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
  2. Wisniewska: I protected our students and USFSP campus


    Throughout my tenure in academia, my focus has always been on putting students first.

    The USF St. Petersburg Campus, Thursday, June 19, 2014.
  3. Bucs defensive end Chris Baker (90) is seen during training camp last month at One Buc Place. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Bucs' defensive attributes in opener included flexibility


    TAMPA — It's a blink-and-you-miss-it nuance, but in Sunday's opener against Chicago, on their very first defensive snap, the Bucs lined up in a 3-4 defense.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter shakes hands with cornerback Brent Grimes (24) before an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

  5. Along the Alafia River, the grateful extend a hand to the Irma-sodden weary (w/video)


    LITHIA — The things that make a house a home dried in the afternoon sun Thursday in a front yard on Williams Street.

    Volunteers from FishHawk Fellowship Church helped Brian Hood (left) clean up debris from his yard in Valrico, Fla. Last week the Alafia River reached a depth of almost 23 feet, about 10 feet above its flood stage. Many homes were damaged, some became uninhabitable. Hood's home is 6 inches above Lithia Pinecrest Road, and did not sustain flood damage, though not all of his neighbors were as lucky.   [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]