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Convicted local rapist loses second appeal

In a decision released Tuesday morning, a district court rejected a second appeal by a former River Falls man convicted of raping and imprisoning a woman in March 2003.

In June 2003 a Pierce County jury found Joseph P. Hipler, now 26, guilty of first degree sexual assault -- use of a dangerous weapon and false imprisonment.

Hipler is serving a 10-year sentence at Stanley Correctional Institution. That term is to be followed by 10 years extended supervision.

During a two-day trial, the victim, who lived in the same building, testified that while visiting Hipler's apartment, she saw a gallon bag of what looked like cocaine. Hipler became angry, prevented her from leaving and forced her to stay with him the rest of the day, both in his apartment and when he went to a party.

Later that evening when the woman tried to return to her apartment, Hipler allegedly grabbed her by the hair and forced her back to his room. She testified that he held a gun to her head, then put the weapon down, pinned her arms above her head and raped her.

The woman didn't immediately report the assault, saying she was afraid Hipler would retaliate against her or her family and friends. About a week later she told her father, who reported the attack to police.

At trial Lesley Charlton, a psychotherapist who works with sexual assault victims, testified that it's not uncommon for sexual assault victims to delay calling police. She said shock, depression and anxiety can affect the decision to report.

Judge Robert Wing denied Hipler permission to present his own expert, Holinda Wakefield, who would have testified that it's not uncommon for individuals to falsely claim to have been raped.

In this appeal, Hipler claimed that his attorney in the earlier appeal erred by not arguing that his trial attorney was ineffective because he failed to argue that excluding Wakefield's testimony violated Hipler's constitutional right to present witnesses and because the lawyer neglected to ask the judge to limit the victim's testimony about Hipler's cocaine.

The appeals court rejected both arguments.

"Although a defendant has a constitutional right to present a defense, there is no constitutional right to present irrelevant evidence," wrote the court. "We agree with the circuit court that testimony that some claims of sexual assault are false would 'state the obvious' and dress up the inference that (the alleged victim) might have lied as having 'more weight simply because (Wakefield) is a supposed expert.'"

In his earlier appeal, Hipler argued that the evidence about cocaine was inadmissible "other acts" evidence that was irrelevant and prejudicial.

At that time the appeals court disagreed, concluding the evidence was properly admitted to prove motive, intent and context.

In the more recent appeal, Hipler claimed his first appeal attorney should have argued that the trial attorney denied him "effective assistance of counsel" by failing to ask the trial judge to limit the scope of the cocaine testimony.

The appeals court said just making that claim isn't enough, Hipler didn't explain how either of the lawyers failed him with regard to the cocaine evidence.