A Vilonia man who pleaded guilty to raping a 23-year-old mentally challenged woman has been sentenced to 25 years in prison. 

William Lishego will have to complete at least 70 percent of his sentence before he is eligible to be considered for parole. The sentencing last week comes four years after the crime took place, but Troy Braswell, 1st Division Chief for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, said he is very happy that justice has finally been served.

"This case has taken a long time to reach a conclusion for many reasons, but we are very happy with the outcome of it," he said. "The victim did very well and we are happy that we were able to bring her some closure. This is why we’re prosecutors."

Braswell said the case began in 2007 when the suspect approached the victim at Hastings and began talking to her about a DVD she was going to purchase. 

When the victim left the store, the suspect followed her out to her vehicle and asked if she’d like to watch the DVD with him. 

"The suspect pressured the victim into letting him come to her apartment and watch the video with her," Braswell said. "When they got to the victim’s apartment, they began talking and the suspect tried to kiss her. The victim told Lishego to stop and that she wanted him to leave but he forced himself on the victim and raped her."

When the victim contacted the police, she had very little information to go on and after exhausting all of the leads, the case grew cold. However, Conway Det. Melissa Smith said she did not give up on getting justice for the victim.

"We didn’t have a lot to go on when the incident occurred and we ran out of leads, but I just couldn’t put the file away," she said. "I kept the file on my desk and tried to find that one piece of evidence that would lead to a suspect."

Smith went as far as visiting Hastings for the next several years in hopes that she would see a man that matched the description given by the victim. She said her commitment to the victim would not let her give up hope on getting the victim the justice she deserved. 

"I was the primary detective on sexually based offenses and crimes against children for a long time at the department, so knowing someone has been victimized really gets to me," she said. "The victim is such a sweet girl, and I really wanted to get her some justice. Her life had been altered and I hoped to be able to help her."

Despite Smith’s best efforts, a break in the case did not come until two years later in 2009 when she was questioning another suspect.

"We knew the suspect in the 2007 case was an Iraqi war veteran and that he wore his dog tags outside of his shirt," she said. "The victim had been able to give us the suspect’s first name, but we weren’t even sure that was correct until we were looking at a similar crime. We had picked up a suspect in that case that we eventually cleared, who had served in Iraq and we asked him if he knew of anyone matching the description of the rape case suspect. That is when we got Lishego’s name." 

Smith said the pieces fell into place quite quickly after that, and Lishego was arrested in 2009 and charged with rape. 

The process of sentencing took its toll on the victim, and Smith said she was happy to be able to finally give the victim some peace of mind with the suspect’s arrest.

"The victim was very independent and lived on her own, so this case impacted her life greatly," she said. "The victim moved back in with her family and was scared to go out because she was afraid Lishego was coming after her. Her independence was gone but we were able to give her back some freedom with Lishego’s arrest and sentencing and that was important to me."

Braswell said Smith’s perseverance was instrumental in helping to solve this case. However, Smith is quick to sing the praises of the entire department.

"We have a very outstanding department and we are all here to help," she said. "If I wasn’t in this position any of the officers here would have worked just as hard to solve this case."

Smith said she brings the same determination she showed on the Lishego case to every case she works because she wants criminals to understand that there are consequences for their actions.

"Some people think when a case gets cold that they have gotten away with their crime and it drives me crazy," she said. "I don’t want people thinking that it is easy to get away with a crime and that they will not be held accountable for what they do."

In addition to serving his prison time, Lishego will have to take part in the sex offender program at the Arkansas Department of Corrections and will also have to register as a sex offender when he is released.

(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at candie.beck@thecabin.net)