Just looking at the facts of the brutal 2003 rape, Judge Barbara McCrory said Thursday she could have slept well at night sentencing Joseph H. Ostrowski to the maximum prison term he faced—40 years.
It’s a crime Ostrowski says he doesn’t remember committing.
District Attorney David O’Leary said the incident—Ostrowski armed with a knife sexually assaulting a woman sleeping in her home in a rural subdivision east of Beloit—was one of the worst sets of facts for a case he has seen.
During the assault, the woman prayed as Ostrowski tied her up and threatened her life.
O’Leary said this upset Ostrowski, who then threatened to cut out her heart because she said it belonged to God. He then stole her Bible.
“I thought it was a nightmare,” the woman said, according to remarks O’Leary read aloud.
But after Ostrowski suffered heat stroke in 2015 in Las Vegas, his resulting retrograde amnesia left him with no memory of his previous life.
At first, Ostrowski thought what police told him was impossible. But he then saw the DNA evidence from a condom and from the electrical cords used to bind the woman.
“It had to be me,” he said in court Thursday.
His attorney, Jason Sanders, said he couldn’t imagine a more difficult case on which to sentence someone.
Left with that choice, McCrory sentenced Ostrowski to 10 years in prison and 20 years of extended supervision. McCrory called the woman a survivor instead of a victim.
It’s double the prison term Sanders asked for and half the prison term O’Leary requested.
Ostrowski, 44, on Feb. 14 entered an Alford plea to a charge of first-degree sexual assault while armed. That plea means he maintains his innocence but acknowledges there’s enough evidence for a jury to convict him.
Ostrowski said Thursday that incarceration was appropriate.
“Because it scares me that I don’t understand the circumstances that allowed me to be involved in any crime like this at all … I feel like extended supervision is appropriate indefinitely,” he said.
“As much as I think about it and I can’t understand how it could happen, it did happen.”
Although Ostrowski cannot know, he said his “best guess” is that alcohol or drugs were involved, “since it’s been such a big part of my life.”
The DA spoke at length about how sexual assault affects survivors, especially as psychological trauma that can stay with them forever.
The survivor in this case moved out of state, O’Leary said. She can’t watch shows such as Law & Order. She can’t stomach calling herself a “rape victim.”
Even in the immediate aftermath, O’Leary said, such heinous acts can cause survivors to behave differently than one might expect.
After cutting the ties, Ostrowski asked her when her alarm was set for. She told him 5 a.m. He told her not to call anyone or go anywhere until then.
O’Leary said she got her gun and hid in her closet. She waited for 5 a.m. and then called her husband.
Since then, she “has lived with this nightmare for 16 years,” O’Leary said.
Sanders, Ostrowski’s lawyer, said the vast majority of what the DA said was true. And if it was 2003, he would understand a harsher sentence because nobody would know if Ostrowski might attack someone again.
But because his client only had relatively minor police interactions in the last 16 years, he said his client was not a danger.
All that McCrory had left to consider was punishment. Sanders cautioned against the impulses associated with that.
“Now, it’s my belief that in this context punishment is vengeance wearing the robe of righteousness,” Sanders said.
“In front of the court today is the body of a guilty man whose mind has just now come to terms with the notion that he was in some way connected with this crime,” he later said.
Police arrested Ostrowski three months before Ostrowski and his longtime girlfriend had plans to get married. He has 653 days of sentence credit.
In the future, he still wants to marry her.
He said he also wants the opportunity to get to know his mom and other family.
Ostrowski’s sister, Nancy Pavon, said she and her mom didn’t know where Ostrowski was for the last 15 years. They often wondered why he lost touch with them.
During Pavon’s first Saturday visit in the Rock County Jail, Ostrowski didn’t recognize her. She hoped he could remember, but nothing she did could spark his memories.
She kept visiting—every Saturday since.
“Saturday, Joe,” Pavon told the man who couldn’t remember all their shared childhood moments as she left the courtroom. “I love you, Joe.”