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Man sentenced for 2001 East Grand Rapids rape

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KENT COUNTY, Mich. -- A man who pleaded no contest to raping a woman in East Grand Rapids in 2001 was sentenced Wednesday to 35 to 55 years in prison.

Jody Howland, 52, will likely spend the rest of his life in prison due in part to a Michigan law that went into effect in 2015. The statute requires investigators to take samples of DNA from anyone accused of committing, or attempting to commit, a felony.

The sexual assault happened in Feb. 2001 when police said Howland raped a woman as she was walking back from a neighborhood bar early morning in East Grand Rapids. The following day another man was arrested, but his charges were dropped that March when his DNA did not match the case's evidence.

Then, last summer, police arrested Howland in Macomb County on drug charges. When his DNA was taken it matched this rape investigation as well as sexual assaults in Texas.  Those took place in Dec. 2003 and April 2004.

Wednesday in Kent County Circuit Court, Judge George Buth noted he accepted Howland's no contest plea, stating this was a "very brutal rape," according to the victim's previous statements.

Howland's Attorney John Grace asked Judge Buth to consider the no-contest plea as well as Howland's 2006 diagnosis of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Howland declined to make a statement in court but let out a gasp when Judge Buth sentenced him to 35 to 55 years in prison.

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