Rape match?

Aug 27, 2008 at 12:00 am

A man allegedly linked by DNA to a 1994 rape — for which another man was wrongly convicted, serving nearly a decade in prison before being exonerated — was arraigned on other sex charges this week

Craig Hamilton Gonser, 40, pleaded not guilty Monday to distributing sexually explicit material to a minor, indecent exposure and aggravated indecent exposure in a Sterling Heights case involving a minor in 2004.

Gonser's bond was set at $500,000 cash during his arraignment in a Macomb County district court, and a preliminary examination is scheduled for Sept. 8.

The Michigan State Police lab earlier this year matched Gonser's DNA to a 1994 rape for which another man, Kenneth Wyniemko, wrongfully served nearly a decade in prison, Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith announced at a news conference last week.

But Gonser can't be charged in the 1994 attack because the statute of limitations has run out. If he's convicted on the 2004 charges, Smith says he'll seek to have him declared a sexually deviant person, a classification that could lead to Gonser's life imprisonment because of his previous sex crimes.

According to Macomb County Circuit Court records, Gonser was on probation for two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct at the time of the 1994 rape. Smith says Gonser has also been convicted of indecent exposure, assault and battery, and disorderly conduct. At a trial to declare him a sexually deviant person, the DNA match on the 1994 rape could be introduced as evidence, Smith says.

"He appears to be a danger to society," Smith says. "The charges that we have are sufficient to keep him behind bars for a very long period of time."

But Gonser's attorney, James Simasko, says Smith is far from a conviction on the Sterling Heights charges, especially since they originate with allegations from Gonser's estranged wife.

"These charges came up because she filed for divorce up in Cheboygan County, and there was a custody dispute up in that case. We think that these charges stem somehow from those disputes," Simasko says.

But Smith, declining to discuss details of the 2004 case, says such challenges are commonplace.

"There's never a case that you walk in and it's cut-and-dried. There are issues in every single case that we have," Smith says. "We don't charge cases unless we're confident of getting a conviction."

At a news conference last week at the Clinton Township Police Department, Smith said police in May learned of Gonser's DNA match to the unsolved 1994 case. A DNA sample from Gonser was collected and analyzed after he was convicted of a felony domestic violence charge in Cheboygan County in May.

Police investigated, interviewing Gonser's acquaintances and family. They reported the 2004 incident, Smith says.

Gonser can't be charged in the 1994 rape, Smith says, because the then six-year statute of limitations had run out in 2000 — just before a 2001 Michigan law extended it indefinitely in some rape cases in part because of advances made in the reliability and availability of DNA testing.

However, Gonser's imprisonment in another case would please Wyniemko, the man who served nearly a decade for the 1994 rape before the DNA evidence exonerated him. After Wyniemko was released from prison in 2003, he won a $3.7 million settlement from the township and now works nationally as an advocate to prevent and remedy wrongful convictions (See "Beyond Innocence," July 2, 2008).

Smith's public announcement last week of Gonser's alleged DNA match to evidence from the scene was vindication for Wyniemko.

"I've waited a long time for this," he says.

Gonser, who has lived in Clinton Township, Warren and most recently Cheboygan, has worked as a truck driver, and police are searching cross-country for unsolved rapes that he may have committed. Wyniemko thinks the release of Gonser's name and photo could lead to other victims identifying him.

"There have got to be more out there," he contends.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]