Alleged serial rapist's release just one example of the difficulty in prosecuting rape

March 31, 2015 by Mark H. Anbinder

Nearly ten years ago, he left town in the middle of a rape investigation. Now, after being spotted in the area last fall, an accused serial rapist has been released from Tompkins County Jail after reaching a plea deal.

William Mackenzie. Photo courtesy New York State Department of Correctional Services.William Mackenzie. Photo courtesy New York State Department of Correctional Services.William Mackenzie, now 32, vanished in 2006 after he was accused of raping an underage girl at a party held at his Fall Creek home on North Aurora Street on June 9th of that year. The girl had a “rape kit” examination performed at a local hospital, but Mackenzie, learning that he was “wanted by police, split town,” according to Leeonne Loveless, a friend of the victim who was at the party where the alleged rape occurred.

According to the Ithaca Voice, Mackenzie's public defender, Matthew Van Houten, says “At the time he left town, he didn’t think he’d committed a crime.” His journeys since then have even included visits to Ithaca.

Ironically, it was Loveless who noticed Mackenzie was back in the area on November 10th. “The day Bill was arrested I saw him panhandling on the exit ramp for the mall. I immediately called the Sheriff’s Department,” she told 14850 Magazine. “I told them that he was a rapist and there was a warrant for his arrest,” she added. A friend “told me she saw him get arrested.”

She contacted her friend, the 2006 victim, to share the news, and reached out to another friend Mackenzie had apparently raped about five years earlier, when she was sixteen. It was only after the 2006 incident that, she says, she learned “he had raped four other people that I knew, and I felt horrible about him getting away.”

We’ve been told by alleged victims that the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office hoped to hear from others who’ve been raped or otherwise hurt by Mr. Mackenzie, and that victims should contact Assistant District Attorney Wendy L. Franklin at 607-274-5461. ADA Franklin did not respond to multiple attempts to contact her, and District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson told us, “We generally don't discuss evidence or other details of pending cases.”

Mackenzie reached a plea deal with the DA's office and pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child, according to the Ithaca Voice, whose coverage says "the agreed-upon sentence is six months in jail." He was released from Tompkins County Jail earlier this month, just four months after his arrest. 

Just last week, Peter Mesko, a former Cornell University student, was sentenced to five years in prison on two lesser charges after a jury was deadlocked on the charge that he raped a woman after entering her room. The DA's office has declined to say whether they would attempt to re-try Mesko on the rape charge, according to the Ithaca Voice. A guilty verdict on a rape charge could have added as much as 25 years to Mesko's sentence.

Molly McDowell's stand-up comedy act at Lot 10. 14850 Photo.Molly McDowell's stand-up comedy act at Lot 10. 14850 Photo.One Ithaca woman has turned to comedy after, she says, her rapist wasn't even charged by the Tompkins County DA's office. "I appreciated that they took my case seriously and made a sincere effort to bring charges against my rapist," says Molly McDowell, "which is more than many victims in this country, never mind other places around the world, can say about their interactions with prosecutors."

Though she praised the Cornell University Police Department for its efforts to bring the case to trial, McDowell was ultimately disappointed that the DA's office wouldn't be pressing charges. "It was incredibly frustrating that although both Franklin and Wilkinson felt that he did it, they did not think they could get a conviction," she says. "That says a lot regarding attitudes regular citizens hold about what rape looks like. Most cases aren't violent stranger rapes, and most victims don't run screaming to the police as soon as it happens. Until people understand that, nothing else is going to change, and thousands of women a year are going to be left without justice being served." She was able to get a civil order of protection, but the dark humor of her stand-up comedy act, which focuses on the rape and her rapist, offers the only other catharsis.

Until 2006, a five-year statute of limitations in the State of New York meant Mackenzie might have gotten away with his earlier crimes, but the very month of the rape for which he was arrested, a new state law went into effect “eliminating and extending the statute of limitations for rape in the first degree, criminal sexual act in the first degree, aggravated sexual abuse in the first degree and course of sexual conduct against a child in the first degree.” Because an arrest warrant was issued for Mackenzie that summer, he was indicted in absentia, and he was a fugitive since 2006, the statute of limitations would not have applied in this case regardless.

Amanda, another friend of the victim who went to the party, spoke to investigators in 2006 before charges were filed. “I never was asked to appear in court,” she says, “since Bill had already left town by then.” This witness, who was 19 at the time of the incident, tells 14850 Magazine she’s been “waiting for him to appear again” since then. “I heard he was panhandling and that's why they found him,” she adds. “The officer involved with the case called me personally to make sure that i was still on board and ready to testify if needed. I said yes.” She says she was not contacted again before Mackenzie was released.

Ithaca Police Department investigator Jeff Huddle, who had worked on the case in 2006 and reached out to Amanda last fall to confirm that she was still available, says he was not otherwise involved in investigating or prosecuting Mackenzie after his recent return. "The DA is now handling the case," Huddle told us in December. IPD spokesperson Jamie Williamson declined to comment this week on the outcome of the case, referring questions to the DA's office.

DA Wilkinson did not respond to our further inquiries about her office's efforts to prosecute rape cases or what factors affect their success.

Mackenzie, who’s from Lansing, is known to have been living in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Oakland, California, in the years since he vanished from Ithaca at the time of the 2006 rape charges. He “disappeared from Oakland almost two years ago,” says a one-time Ithaca resident who lives in the Bay Area now and says Mackenzie “was knowingly spreading HIV throughout the community.”

“I heard he got HIV in Chicago, then moved to San Francisco, then moved to Portland,” says Loveless.

In addition to encouraging victims or witnesses to report sexual assaults to police or the DA’s office, Loveless encourages them to reach out to the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County for support or counseling. The local non-profit can be reached 24 hours a day at 607-277-5000.

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