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Frederic Saecker

Other Wisconsin DNA Exonerations
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Shortly after midnight on June 28, 1989, a 39-year-old woman wearing only a bra and underpants was kidnapped from her home in Bluff Siding, Wisconsin after she found an intruder in her kitchen.

The woman, identified as C.P., later said the man demanded money and then grabbed her around the neck and dragged her out of the house. The woman’s husband was awakened by the commotion. He confronted the assailant in the driveway, but backed off when the attacker threatened to kill C.P. The husband went inside to get a gun and called police. When he came back outside, his wife and the attacker were gone.

Police responding to a traffic accident report spotted C.P. walking along a road more than a mile from her home. She said she had been sexually assaulted orally and vaginally, and abandoned after she refused to cross the interstate or try to swim across the Mississippi River to Winona, Minnesota.

At about the same time, Gerald Stephan, a truck driver, was driving toward Winona when he saw 38-year-old Frederic Saecker walking along the highway. He gave Saecker a ride after Saecker said he was going to Winona. Stephan later said that as they were driving along, he saw C.P. sitting in a ditch. When he got to Winona, he reported his sighting to police.

Stephan dropped Saecker off near a motel where Saecker was living and went to a restaurant for coffee. Saecker later came into the restaurant where witnesses said he appeared to have blood on his shirt.

On June 29, police arrested Saecker and confiscated his clothing as well as other possessions from the motel room. He was charged with sexual assault, burglary, and kidnapping.

Saecker went to trial in Buffalo County Circuit Court in January 1990.

C.P. testified that she returned home from work shortly after 11 p.m. Because she was very dirty from her job, she undressed to her bra and underpants, and washed up in the bathroom before sitting down to watch television in the living room. She said that sometime after midnight, she heard a noise in the kitchen. When she went to investigate, a man grabbed her and said, “I want your money, your T.V.'s and your VCR’s.”

C.P. said she screamed for her husband and the man punched her with one fist as he held her around the neck with his other arm. She said she did not see the man's face. C.P. said the man grabbed her purse from a kitchen counter, pulled her out of the kitchen, and both of them fell down the stairs and into the garage. She said the man then forced her through the side garage door, down the driveway, and up a neighbor's driveway while holding her in a headlock.

C.P., who was 5 feet 1 inch tall, said that her eyes came to shoulder level of the attacker. She said the man dragged her down the neighbor’s driveway and ripped off her bra. She said her husband then came out and the attacker said, “Get out of here or I'll kill her right here.” She said her husband went back into the house and the attacker forced her across a nearby highway, over a guardrail and a hill, and into a swampy area.

C.P. said the man then sexually assaulted her and allowed her to put her underpants back on. The man then pulled her along the highway, dragging her through the brush to hide from passing cars. She said they crossed a bridge and eventually stopped again near a boat landing, where he sexually assaulted her again.

She told the jury that the man then asked “about the way to Winona” and “wanted to take me across the interstate.” She said she convinced him that he would be caught if he tried to do so. She said the assailant also talked of swimming across the river, but she told him that the channel was too deep, that the current was too swift, and that she could not swim. The man then ran up the riverbank, telling her to stay put and that if she ran, he would kill her. She said she waited a while and then began trying to walk home. She was two blocks north of her house when a Buffalo County Sheriff's Deputy came upon her and took her home.

C.P. testified that one of her eyes was swollen shut, a rib was broken, and she had numerous cuts and bruises. She went to a hospital where a rape kit was taken. She admitted she was unable to identify Saecker and that she had picked someone else out of a photographic lineup that included Saecker’s photograph.

She said the attacker wore a light colored T-shirt, either white or gray, and jeans. The man was much taller than her and stocky.

C.P.’s husband, R.P., testified that he was awakened by a scream and a crash, and went outside. He said the man yelled to “turn away or I'll kill her, I want money.” He said he could not see the person clearly and returned to the house for a gun. By the time he went back outside, he did not see or hear anything.

R.P. said the man was 5 feet 7 inches or 5 feet 8 inches tall. He conceded that he had picked a man other than Saecker out of a photographic lineup.

Oral swabs, vaginal swabs, vaginal smears, and pubic hair specimens were obtained from C.P. A crime lab analyst testified that semen was found in the vaginal swabs and smears, and in a stain in the underpants. Blood typing of the semen did not exclude Saecker, but it also did not exclude 85 percent of the male population, the analyst said.

The analyst also testified that samples of Saecker’s pubic hair were consistent with two pubic hairs found on C.P. in color, intensity of pigment, density and distribution of pigment granules, and width of medulla and cuticle. The analyst also testified that the same findings could likely be made for other people in the courtroom.

Truck driver Gerald Stephan testified that he was driving north on Highway 35-54 en route to Iowa, when he stopped to pick up a man on foot whom he identified as Saecker. Stephan said Saecker “seemed awful jumpy and nervous” as if he were “high” on something. Stephan Saecker was wearing a white sport shirt containing “a couple dozen” “dark spots,” which appeared to be blood.

Stephan said Saecker also appeared to have “a little bit” of blood on his right hand. Stephan said Saecker said he was coming from a bar, and that he had “gotten away” from the Alma police department after he had been stopped for drunken driving and disorderly conduct.

Stephan said he picked up Saecker near the Cottonwood bar, which was about a mile and a half south of C.P.’s home.

Shortly after picking up Saecker, Stephan said he noticed a “female sitting down in the ditch” along the highway as he neared Winona. He said he was going too fast to stop his truck, so he continued into Winona and reported the sighting to police there.

Stephan said he pulled his truck into the Happy Chef restaurant in Winona for coffee, and that Saecker said he was going to his nearby motel room for some money and would be back for something to eat. Stephan said he saw Saecker enter a room at the El Rancho motel and later come into the restaurant wearing the same clothes. Stephan said Saecker sat nearby and began talking to people around him.

Janie Niemann testified that she was working at the Happy Chef restaurant when Stephan stopped there shortly before 2:00 a.m. She said Saecker came in a little later.

When Saecker was first arrested, he was taken to the Winona County jail. Inmates there at the time testified that Saecker made several incriminating statements. Mark Ronnenberg testified that when Saecker was handed a copy of the criminal complaint against him, he threw it in the trash, saying, “I have to throw this away, it’s making me horny.” The testimony of four other jail inmates corroborated Ronnenberg’s account.

Ronnenberg said that when the inmates gave Saecker “a hard time” about the sexual-assault allegations, Saecker said it was better than masturbating.

Inmate Robert Dennis testified that shortly after Saecker arrived in jail, he was lying down and muttered, “The bitch deserved it.” Dennis also said that when he asked Saecker if the charges scared him, Saecker said that “he was going to play crazy and get out of it.”

The inmates also testified that Saecker talked about hiding with the woman in bushes to avoid traffic and that he “kept her quiet” so passing motorists wouldn't see her.

Inmate William Shaney testified that Saecker said he got a truck ride to the Happy Chef restaurant on the morning of the assaults, and that he “changed clothes”' and “washed up” at a motel before entering the restaurant. Shaney said he asked Saecker how he could live with himself after committing the assaults and Saecker replied, “I can’t. I’m not fit to live. I shouldn’t be allowed to live.”

Shaney and another inmate also testified that they also heard Saecker deny committing the crimes.

The inmates also testified that Saecker was “different,” “weird,” and “strange.” At times Saecker stood on his hands and kicked his feet in the air and jumped up and down on a table.

Two Buffalo County sheriff's officers testified to statements that Saecker made shortly before trial. One sheriff’s deputy said Saecker said, “I figured it out; I raped the girl, but she liked it.” Another officer said that two days before trial, Saecker handed him a piece of paper containing a Biblical passage and declared, “That's why I raped her.”

The defense called Ambrose Schwartz, former owner of the Four Mile Club, located on the same highway where Stephan picked up Saecker. Schwartz testified that sometime between 12:45 and 1:15 a.m. on June 28, 1989, he was driving south on Highway 35-54 toward the Four Mile Club when he saw Saecker walking north along the highway, approximately three or four blocks north of the club. Schwartz said he knew Saecker as a regular at the club, which featured nude women dancers. Schwartz said that after he turned into the driveway of the club, he saw brake lights come on and it looked like someone was slowing down to give Saecker a ride.

Saecker testified and denied committing the crimes. He said he was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed about 180 pounds. He testified that the day before the attack, he was arrested for drunken driving on Highway 35-54 near the bridge into Winona, and at one point he walked backward into a swamp and fled instead of entering a patrol car.

He said he got out of jail and got a ride to where his car had been left, and then drove the car to his mother's house in Winona, where he left it. He said he then got a ride to the El Rancho motel, where he was staying. He said he later took a cab to the Four Mile Club, and that he stayed there until the dancers stopped, which he estimated to be between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. on June 28. He said he began to walk back to the El Rancho motel and a truck driver stopped to give him a ride to the Happy Chef restaurant in Winona.

Saecker said when he received a copy of the criminal complaint at the jail, he responded with “nonsense, stupid things that I knew mostly weren't the best things to say, but at that point I did not really care.” He said his comments to fellow inmates about hiding in the swamp related to his drunken-driving arrest and that his comments to the deputies were taken “out of context.”

Saecker also said that one of his remarks was accompanied by handing the jailer a Biblical passage to the effect that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully with his eyes is guilty of adultery in his heart.” He admitted telling a jailer, “I figured it out, I raped that woman and she liked it.”

He denied that he had blood on his shirt or hands when given a ride by the truck driver.

Saecker’s defense lawyer attempted to introduce evidence that Saecker suffered from mental illness as part of an insanity defense.

The defense attorney presented the testimony of Dr. Albert Lorenz, a psychiatrist who had diagnosed Saecker as suffering from a mental illness called organic delusional syndrome. Dr. Paul Caillier, a clinical psychologist, testified that Saecker was a paranoid schizophrenic. Caillier testified that alcohol could aggravate schizophrenic symptoms and Lorenz testified that under the influence of alcohol and drugs, Saecker would be unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

The trial judge declined to allow Caillier to testify about the reliability of Saecker’s statements in the jail. Outside the presence of the jury, Caillier said that Saecker had “a tendency to go off on tangents.” Caillier said that Saecker’s thinking processes were characteristic of schizophrenics: “very loose and freewheeling, if you will. So anything that you told me about what he said, given my opinion that he is a paranoid schizophrenic, would not surprise me…Mr. Saecker, you know, again is very paranoid. He also believes that he has special powers, special insights. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if he felt that his Biblical interpretations could be married to what he thought was the present set of facts.”

Caillier also said that “people who are paranoid and who are schizophrenic do say an awful lot of what would be considered silly things, particularly things that are contrary to their best interest. So in a general sense, those statements would be consistent with his condition.

The judge said that Caillier’s testimony wasn’t “precise enough and strong enough.” The judge said the testimony was qualified and not to “the requisite degree of medical certainty.”

The judge also said that if he allowed the testimony, the prosecution would require an opportunity to respond, which would require a delay in the trial—a delay the judge did not want to grant.

On January 4, 1990, the jury, although it concluded that Saecker had a mental defect, convicted him of second-degree sexual assault, kidnapping, and burglary. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

On appeal, the defense argued that the prosecution had failed to disclose a receipt for a bank withdrawal made by Saecker about a hour before the crime at an ATM about 6.2 miles from C.P.’s home.

In January 1991, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected that claim and upheld Saecker’s convictions.

In 1993, Saecker’s mother paid for DNA testing by Genetic Designs, a private laboratory in North Carolina. The tests concluded that Saecker could not have possibly been the source of the semen found in the C.P.’s underwear.

Saecker’s defense filed a post-conviction motion for a new trial based on the DNA test results. The defense also contended that Saecker’s trial lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to have Dr. Caillier fully describe paranoid schizophrenia and how it affects speech and the disturbance of thought resulting in “compromised statements which seem bizarre or nonsensical.”

The defense contended that Saecker’s trial lawyer failed to review Saecker’s statements in the jail with the expert “to provide evidence as to whether elements of the statements were consistent with speech of a paranoid schizophrenic and, if so, why.”

The defense noted that Saecker’s trial lawyer “acknowledged that, while he had heard of relevant cases on admission of expert testimony, he had not read them for this case and did not specifically prepare for this issue.”

In 1995, Saecker was granted a new trial based on the DNA tests results. The judge rejected the claim that his trial defense lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense.

The defense appealed the denial of the inadequate legal defense and the prosecution appealed the decision to order a new trial. In August 1995, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the trial court ruling.

On October 24, 1996, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

In 2001, the State of Wisconsin Claims Board awarded Saecker $45,000 in compensation for legal fees and time in prison.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 1/28/2019
State:Wisconsin
County:Buffalo
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Kidnapping, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1989
Convicted:1990
Exonerated:1996
Sentence:15 years
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:38
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes