CASPER, Wyo. — Authorities say a Casper woman was assaulted at her front door, raped at knifepoint in her living room and left bound on the floor, and they say one of the men charged in the brutal attack claimed that he thought it was invited.
Two men are accused in the crime. One is charged with carrying out the rape. The other, the woman's ex-boyfriend, stands accused of posing as the victim online and claiming she harbored a rape fantasy and wanted to be assaulted.
The case in the central Wyoming city of Casper, population 54,000, illustrates that middle America isn't immune to the dangers of Internet anonymity and predators who target victims through online ads that hint at sex and prostitution.
Prosecutor Mike Blonigen, the Natrona County district attorney, declined to comment on the specifics of the ongoing rape case. But he said Internet cases generally pose a challenge to law enforcement.
"Tracking down who's involved is relatively difficult," Blonigen said. "It's pretty easy to set up a false identity in cyberspace, so that's always an issue. And of course, they have to make some overt act to actually accomplish any of these things. We're not the thought police."
In the Casper case, Blonigen's office has charged Ty Oliver McDowell, 26, of Bar Nunn, a Casper suburb, with three counts of first-degree sexual assault, one count of kidnapping and one count of aggravated burglary. Jebidiah James Stipe, 27, a Marine based in Twentynine Palms, Calif., is charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree sexual assault.
Lawyers representing McDowell and Stipe declined comment.
A few days before the Casper woman was raped, she had complained to the Natrona County Sheriff's Department that someone had made a false Craigslist posting about her, including photographs and personal information. The ad read, "Need a real aggressive man with no concern for women," authorities said.
Craigslist took the advertisement down when the woman complained. Yet prosecutors say it was posted long enough to catch the attention of McDowell, a medical technologist.
According to a statement filed in court by Natrona County Sheriff's Deputy Todd Sexton, McDowell waived his right to remain silent and talked to deputies investigating the case.
"McDowell admitted to going to the victim's residence ... and having sexual contact with (the woman) to fulfill a 'rape fantasy' for her," Sexton wrote.
McDowell told investigators that he had corresponded with a person he thought was the woman at an e-mail address featured on the advertisement, Sexton wrote.
However, prosecutors charge that McDowell was actually communicating by e-mail with Stipe, the woman's former boyfriend. They say Stipe posted the ad to set the woman up for the attack without her knowledge.
The San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sheriff's Department on Dec. 16 arrested Stipe, a private first-class in the U.S. Marine Corps then stationed at Twentynine Palms. A spokeswoman for the Marine Corps said Stipe enlisted in July 2001 and, "was being processed for administrative separation as a result of a pattern of misconduct at the time of his arrest."
The Casper case is one of several sex crimes to grab headlines recently in which the Internet linked perpetrators and victims. Law enforcement officials around the country also have in the past accused Craigslist of promoting prostitution.
Scrutiny of Craigslist increased significantly when prosecutors in Boston last year charged that former medical student Philip Markoff used Craigslist to arrange a meeting with masseuse Julissa Brisman. He's accused of shooting her to death last April and of attacking other women he met through the site.
In 2008, Craigslist agreed to tighten its adult services advertisements as part of an agreement with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and with the attorneys general for 43 states and territories, including Wyoming.
Under the agreement, Craigslist started requiring a working telephone number and charging a small credit card fee for each such ad.
"Requiring credit card verification and charging a fee to post in this category raises accountability to a point where we expect few illicit ads will remain," Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said in November 2008 in a joint statement with the state prosecutors and the children's center.
Craigslist didn't respond to an e-mail sent to their San Francisco headquarters seeking comment on the Wyoming rape case, although a company phone message requests that press inquiries be made by e-mail.
Blonigen, the Casper prosecutor, said Craigslist was cooperative with Wyoming investigators.
"I would prefer that they maybe not run these ads," Blonigen said. "You know somebody's going to do it even if they don't."
Wyoming State Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, is a criminal defense attorney and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the state Legislature. He said the committee may have to consider whether state law is up to the challenge of dealing with sexual predators who prowl the Internet.
"The world is changing so rapidly here, particularly with regard to Internet, cyber crimes, and things like that, that we're going to see a whole new evolution of law, it seems to me," Ross said.
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