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Man convicted on all charges in series of rapes in Shelby County during 1980s

Posted at 11:13 PM, Mar 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-03 23:13:12-05

SHELBY COUNTY — A man was convicted Thursday on all charges connected with a series of rapes that happened in the 1980s.

A jury found Steven R. Hessler, of Greensburg guilty after an eight-day trial on allegations he robbed and sexually assaulted multiple victims over the course of three years.

Hessler was convicted on two counts of rape, six counts of unlawful deviate conduct, seven counts of burglary resulting in bodily injury, three counts of criminal deviate conduct and one count of robbery — all of which are class A felonies, according to a news release from the Shelby County Prosecutor's Office.

The charges stemmed from several home invasions and sexual assaults committed from 1982 to 1985.

Prosecutors allege Hessler attacked his victims in the middle of the night with his face covered by a ski mask or legging and stole cash or other items while armed with a gun or knife. He sexually assaulted his female victims and in many cases tied them up.

In his final attack, Hessler struck a male victim with a gun several times to the point the man fell into a coma for months, prosecutors said.

The victim needed several months of rehabilitation, during which he re-learned to talk and walk with a chain. He has since been confined to a wheelchair.

"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)," Shelby County Prosecutor James B. Landwerlen said in a statement.

"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 Genealogical DNA Identification."

Investigators were eventually able to obtain a sample of Hessler's DNA from an envelope he licked to send a utility payment. It was then matched with that obtained from the scene of the attack.

Police then executed a search warrant on Hessler's home in August 2020 and discovered photographs stolen from a victim and computers that showed he had been tracking down two other victims. Police also found clothing and other items that matched the description of attire and objects used in the attacks, including coats with ski masks in the pockets.

Hessler faces up to 50 years for each offense. He is scheduled to be sentenced at 10 a.m. April 1.

"The biggest credit goes out to the victims, who bravely testified despite having received death threats during the attacks. These attacks have had profound impacts on their lives — always fearful if someone looks at them, and living in a recurring state of fear. I truly hope these verdicts will bring them some sense of closure," Landwerlen said. "I intend to seek a sentence sufficient to ensure that he dies in prison – never to hurt anyone again.