Competency to be tested in cold case

WARREN — A man charged in connection to the rape and robbery of an elderly woman 20 years ago has opted for an insanity defense.

Jack L. Sheetz, 48, whose last known address was in Utica, N.Y., appeared Wednesday before Trumbull County Judge W. Wyatt McKay. His attorney, public defender Matthew Pentz, filed motions for a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and also is seeking a determination of the competency of Sheetz to stand trial. McKay granted a third motion on funding a defense DNA consultant.

McKay set a competency hearing for Feb. 1 after Sheetz is examined by experts at the Forensic Psychiatric Center in Austintown.

Sheetz, who was picked up by local authorities in New York after a secret indictment was unsealed Sept. 15, remains in the county jail pending the posting of a $500,000 bond. He faces charges of aggravated burglary, rape and aggravated robbery.

Authorities said Sheetz was a neighbor of the then-75-year-old victim who was raped and robbed Dec. 17, 1996, at her home. The woman has since died. According to Howland detective Jeff Edmundson, the victim  did not suspect Sheetz.  However, Edmundson said Sheetz was interviewed by the original investigators, as were several neighbors of the victim, but he was not charged 20 years ago.

It was only after Howland detectives resubmitted the evidence last year and his DNA was discovered, Edmondson said, that Sheetz became a suspect. Sheetz’s DNA became available in a statewide database because of a prison sentence he served in 2006. According to Trumbull County court records, Sheetz was sentenced to 17 months in prison April 24, 2006, by Judge Andrew D. Logan for a probation violation from a 2004 conviction on a charge of breaking and entering.

If convicted of the latest charges, Sheetz could face up to 33 years in prison, but the sentencing would change if he is found by the court of not knowing the wrongfulness of his actions at the time of the crime, according to the state law covering insanity cases.