Metro-East News

Teen withdraws plea in rape, carjacking charges; case will be heard by jury instead

Belleville sexual assault victim attacked in garage

In this file video, Belleville Det.Sgt. Mark Heffernan talks about the crime where a woman was ambushed in her garage in early May by a trio of men, one of them armed with a handgun. Two of the suspects stole the woman’s 2015 Mini Cooper and the t
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In this file video, Belleville Det.Sgt. Mark Heffernan talks about the crime where a woman was ambushed in her garage in early May by a trio of men, one of them armed with a handgun. Two of the suspects stole the woman’s 2015 Mini Cooper and the t

A teen who previously pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting and carjacking a Belleville-area woman in her garage will get a new jury trial after he withdrew his guilty plea, saying he didn't understand what he was agreeing to.

In May 2016, a woman reported that three men had followed her into her garage. Two of the men stole her car and left; the third remained and raped her, police said.

Leondre McClendon, 18, was sentenced to up to 70 years in prison after he pleaded guilty in September 2017 to charges of aggravated criminal sexual assault, vehicular hijacking and aggravated unlawful possession of a stolen vehicle.

However, McClendon's attorneys withdrew the guilty plea over the prosecutor's objections Wednesday.

Cathy MacElroy, McClendon's attorney, told the judge that McClendon had not understood the plea deal and court proceedings, and that she and attorney Grant Menges had been ineffective in their counsel.

He was "unduly influenced in his plea by me," MacElroy said.

Leondre McClendon.jpg
Leondre McClendon Provided

"Do you feel Mrs. MacElroy and Mr. Menges forced you to plead guilty?" Judge Robert Haida asked McClendon.

McClendon's response was an indiscernible grunt.

"Can you explain that further?" the judge asked.

"I guess so," McClendon said without elaborating.

During the hearing, prosecutor Bernadette Schrempp read transcripts from the November 2017 proceeding and argued the defense "does not meet the standards to withdraw the plea."

Haida said he had tried to explain to McClendon what the range of punishments with a guilty plea would be, but said he believed he had been unsuccessful.

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Leondre McClendon has been at the Menard Correctional Facility since December. With his plea deal successfully withdrawn, he was remanded into custody of the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department.

"The defendant’s conduct, his responses and demeanor in court give me a bad feeling about the plea," Haida said.

When McClendon was sentenced in November, Menges argued that McClendon had an extremely low IQ and was unable to perform basic tasks. He had been in juvenile detention in both Madison and St. Clair counties prior to his most recent incarceration.

After the judge granted a jury trial, MacElroy spoke to McClendon, asking him if he understood where he would be going after court and if he knew what a jury was. He did not seem to verbally respond to her questions.

Mary Cooley: 618-239-2535, @MaryCooleyBND
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