CLEVELAND — A convicted serial rapist who is already serving a 48-year prison term for multiple rapes in Cleveland, pleaded guilty to two cold case sexual assaults in December 2006 and March 2007, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said Tuesday.
Ronald Wheeler, 48, who is already serving a 48-year prison term for other stranger rapes, was sentenced to 20 additional years in prison. He pleaded guilty to two counts of rape and one count of kidnapping.
“This serial rapist, who has been convicted of raping six victims, will now rightfully die behind bars,” O’Malley said. “Although delayed, justice has been served for these victims.”
On Dec. 18, 2006, an 18-year-old woman was walking in the area of East 105th Street and Quincy Avenue when Wheeler approached her with a gun, grabbed her and forced her to climb through an open window of a nearby empty building.
While threatening to kill her, he sexually assaulted her multiple times at gunpoint. After he fled the scene, the 18-year-old was transported to a hospital where a sexual assault kit was collected.
She lived for 14 years in fear and anguish.
“I was 18. I had just turned 18 and he raped me. He threatened me and he took advantage of me. I did not know him,” the woman told News 5. “I was uncomfortable living in the city that I grew up in. I became uncomfortable knowing that he's still out there.”
The woman was unaware until 2020 that her 2006 attacker had been behind bars for similar crimes since 2009.
“I went through years of this. Every time on the news I would see a girl killed at an abandoned building or a girl that got raped and killed in an awful way, I would think, ‘Maybe that's him.’ I would cry for those women, for those girls, because it happened to me,” the woman said. “I wouldn't sit next to strangers on buses. I didn't feel comfortable. I didn’t trust people, especially men.”
Less than a year later on March 19, 2007, a 23-year-old woman was holding her 5-month-old infant while at a bus stop on Woodhill and Woodland Avenue in Cleveland when Wheeler pulled out a gun, threatened to kill her and her baby and forced her to a vacant area near the train tracks.
He sexually assaulted her multiple times while holding her child. Before he fled the scene, he took her money. The 23-year-old woman was transported to a nearby hospital where a sexual assault kit was collected.
The Sexual Assault Kit Task Force has been testing cold case rape kits like these survivors' since 2013.
Justice for these women, in particular, came more than a decade after they were attacked.
“I didn't know he was in prison and so they came and they told me that he had been in prison since 2009,” one woman said. “I'm satisfied that he'll never be able to come out and do that to another person.”
It wasn’t until 2020 that the task force linked the 2006 and 2007 crimes to Wheeler.
“We are able to test evidence that either was previously untested or perhaps was tested in older technology. In this particular case, two additional rape kits were tested,” Mary Weston said. “Those two kits were found to contain male DNA that connected to each other, but also connected to Ronald Wheeler. We then confirmed those samples by collecting DNA from him and we built a case and we went ahead and indicted it.”
Weston, Director of the Cuyahoga County Cold Case Unit, said it was important to add time to Wheeler’s existing lengthy sentence for each victim to gain closure.
“They've waited years to hear any news at all and they often thought they would never hear anything,” Weston said. “He would have been 83 years old when he got out of prison, but my goal was to have him serve additional years that would be specific to each victim.”
One survivor of Wheeler’s attacks said she can now begin moving forward with her life.
“We have to live with it for the rest of our life, so they should have to live with the consequences,” the woman said. “There are a lot of Ronald Wheelers out there. There are a lot of them, but there's one less Ronald Wheeler on the street today because I came forward and because other women came forward.”
Wheeler will not be eligible for release until August 2075, at which time he would be 103 years old.