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Rape Victims Testify in Resentencing Hearing 17 Years After Conviction

July 23, 1991

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Three women who were raped at gunpoint 17 years ago testified during a hearing for a rapist who claims to have been suffering from war-related mental illness at the time of his crimes.

Mitchell Paul Bilke was 23 when he was sentenced in 1974 to 170 years in prison on 13 charges involving sex crimes, kidnap and armed robbery. He was not scheduled to be eligible for parole until 2033, when he would be 82.

But the state Supreme Court ruled in August 1989 that new evidence indicates that Bilke, a Vietnam War veteran, may have been suffering from war- related, post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of his crimes. It ordered a hearing to reconsider Bilke’s sentence.

Superior Court Judge Gilbert Veliz began hearing the case Monday.

Defense attorney Jim Himelic said he is seeking an early release so Bilke can be treated at a Veterans Administration clinic for post-traumatic stress.

Two of the rape victims who testified Monday said Bilke did not mention Vietnam, and showed no signs of delusions when he raped them at gunpoint in an alley Nov. 23, 1973.

″He was very calm, very in control of everything that was going on,″ said one victim.

A third victim, who was raped by Bilke on Nov. 29, 1973, testified that she and Bilke talked of many things after he forced her into her car, but the rapist did not mention that he was a war veteran.

Two other victims refused to testify because they feared being identified by Bilke, but wrote a joint letter to Veliz asking that Bilke not be released.

″There is no doubt in our minds that if he gets out, he is very liable to kill either one of the victims of the crimes or some unknowing person who has no idea of his past,″ wrote the two, who were attacked at gunpoint Nov. 16, 1973.

Each of the three women who testified Monday, and the two who wrote the letter, said they still suffer from the assaults. Several mentioned a lingering fear of strange men and of being alone. They also said they feared that if Bilke was released he might come after their families.

″I can’t put a quantitative value on the amount of terror I picked up from that event,″ said the victim in the car attack.

Pima County Attorney Stephen Neely, who prosecuted the case as a deputy county attorney in 1974, criticized the proceedings.

″This is another example of the legal system’s indifference to the welfare of crime victims and the safety of the community,″ Neely said. ″Seventeen years later, these women have to come back to court and confront a convicted serial rapist to prevent a judge from putting this predator back on the streets.″

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