JANESVILLE - "The facts are some of the worst I have seen as district attorney."
That's how Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary described the chilling details of a January 2003 home invasion and sex assault by knife-point of a Beloit woman during the sentencing hearing for the man convicted in the case.
Joseph H. Ostrowski, 44, was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison and 20 years of post-release supervision by Rock County Circuit Court Judge Barbara McCrory, in what the judge called a "novel" case. The case is out of the ordinary because Ostrowski claims to be suffering from amnesia and does not remember the assault.
According to court records, Ostrowski broke into the West Hart Road home in Beloit early in the morning of Jan. 6, 2003 and demanded money from the woman who lived alone and was 54-years-old at the time of the incident. Ostrowski used electrical cords to bind her wrists and neck, before raping her multiple times and threatening to kill her. The woman told authorities that Ostrowski, who she was unable to identify at the time of the assault, was angered by her praying and threatened to rip her heart out and stole her purse and Bible. Years after the assault, the victim had to move away from Wisconsin and did not wish to appear in court to risk being re-traumatized.
After the assault was over, O'Leary said, Ostrowski told the woman to stay in the home until her alarm clock went off at 5 a.m.. The woman later hid in a closet clutching a handgun until her alarm went off and she called her ex-husband, before authorities were contacted, O'Leary said.
"The victim endured what she described as a nightmare, and the defendant repeatedly told her he was going to kill her," O'Leary said.
Ostrowski was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada in May of 2017 on unrelated charges and was identified as the suspect in the Beloit case through a national DNA database - Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
Charges were brought against Ostrowski by Rock County authorities after the DNA identification match. As the case moved through the court system, Ostrowski told authorities he had no memory of the assault, and he was diagnosed with retrograde amnesia due to heat stroke and combined substance abuse while in Las Vegas.
Due to his medical condition but implicating DNA evidence against him, Ostrowski pleaded guilty via an Alford plea to the charge of first-degree sexual assault with use of a dangerous weapon.
According to Wisconsin law, an Alford plea is a guilty plea in a criminal case where a defendant does not admit to the criminal act and asserts innocence. By entering an Alford plea, the defendant admits the evidence presented by the state would likely persuade a judge or jury the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ostrowski's sister Nancy Pabon testified to the court during Thursday's hearing that her brother had lost touch with her for nearly two decades, telling McCrory that Ostrowski did not recognize her or remember any childhood memories she had of him.
In total, Ostrowski could have faced a 60-year sentence but McCrory said she considered all mitigating factors in the case, and in sentencing relied on a report that noted Ostrowski was at a low risk for recidivism and that he was "incredibly remorseful" for his actions.
Ostrowski told the court he grappled with not remembering the events of that fateful winter night in 2003, while defense attorney Jason Sanders re-examined all evidence in the case. Ostrowski also told McCrory he felt prison time was needed due to the graphic and violent nature of the assault, which he said was attributed to his substance abuse issues with alcohol and methamphetamine.
"They brought me here and after talking with Mr. Sanders and going over the complaint, I said it had to be a mistake and to double check the evidence and on confirmation of it, I realized I had to be involved in it," Ostrowski said. "The science is sound, but as hard as it was for me to believe it was possible, it had to be me."