New DNA evidence leads to suspect in 2000 sex assault case

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CHIPPEWA COUNTY, Wis. (WEAU) - An inmate could see some added time in prison after DNA linked him to a sex assault case from more than a decade ago.

Thirty-four-year-old Thomas Bealhen is charged with the crime after giving a DNA sample last year, matching one found in evidence from the Chippewa County case.

Neighbors on the south east side of the Holcombe Flowage say, people gather here to enjoy fireworks every Fourth of July.

In 2000, a sexual assault on Independence Day turned officers' attention to finding a suspect.

According to court records, a then-21-year-old woman was getting out of the bathroom when a man grabbed her and stabbed a sharp object, believed to be knife, into her back, telling her not to scream or he'd kill her. He then led her to the woods across the street, punched and raped her.

Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk, who investigated the case back in 2000 said there wasn't enough evidence to make an arrest.

“We ran out of suspects and additional leads and information that could allow us to go forward to solve or to put a closure to this case was frustrating,” Kowalczyk said.

That changed last fall.

“There was a match to someone in the system. Then the process is then to get what we call a confirmation swab from them, because there could always be a mix up as to someone's information,” Chippewa County Assistant District Attorney Wade Newell said.

DNA samples taken from the victim and a condom found nearby matched a sample given by Thomas Bealhen, who was convicted of sexual assault last year and had his DNA put in the state crime lab database, Newell said.

Bealhen is scheduled to be released from the Fox Lake prison in 2017, but a conviction in this case could land him up to 60 more years in prison.

“It brings closure and or justice to the victim. Obviously the case is not resolved now, the victim now knows that it's not an unknown person and they now are able to know the person responsible for the sexual assault,” Newell said.

He said there was no indication that Bealhen knew the victim. His first court date is set for Apr. 29 in Chippewa County.