Mentally ill teen rapist sentenced, could serve up to 70 years in prison

Leondre McClendon
Leondre McClendon

The 17-year-old who pleaded guilty to rape and carjacking will likely spend most or all of his life in prison, following his sentencing Wednesday in St. Clair County Court.

Leondre McClendon was sentenced to up to 70 years in prison Wednesday after a lengthy sentencing hearing before St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert Haida, in a complicated combination of sentences that would keep him prison for most of his life.

McClendon was 16 years old on that April night in 2016 when he and two other juveniles attacked a young woman as she arrived home, pulling into her garage.

They stole her car, cell phone and day planner with cash inside, but when the other two wanted to leave with her 2015 Mini Cooper, McClendon told them to leave without him.

The woman had cooperated throughout the attack as the teenagers had trouble starting her car, even helping them start it, saying she hoped that if they could get the car started, they would leave her alone.

Instead, McClendon raped her in her garage, pretending to have a gun in order to get her to comply, she testified before the court Wednesday.

“I was too terrified to resist,” she said. It is the policy of the Belleville News-Democrat not to name the victims of sexual assault without their consent.

McClendon had been in and out of juvenile court for years, spending time in juvenile detention in both Madison and St. Clair counties. His juvenile probation officer, Tara Arthur-Bergman, testified that she had referred him to mental health treatment, but that his mother refused to take him to treatment for religious reasons.

“At no point was he capable of getting treatment on his own,” said defense attorney Grant Menges.

He also has an extremely low IQ, according to Menges — below 72, in the bottom 3 percent in the country and unable to perform basic tasks like counting three numbers backwards, he said.

Meanwhile, there were multiple instances of threats of physical violence and other problems when he was in detention, according to the detention center director.

McClendon had been out of detention for a week and had already violated the terms of his electronic monitoring several times. Arthur-Bergman had requested an arrest warrant for him based on violation of the terms of his release, and the warrant was active at the time he assaulted the woman in her garage. The monitor showed McClendon’s whereabouts at the time of the attack to be in the area of the woman’s home.

The woman broke down crying several times as she gave a lengthy statement detailing what happened to her, as well as comments from friends and family who noted the extreme change in her personality and behavior.

Throughout the ordeal of reporting the rape, enduring the examination at the hospital and repeated interviews with the police, she said she “felt like it was all a bad dream.” Since then, she described a state of constant fear.

“I would like to say I am not an emotional wreck, but I am,” she said. She said she is scared to go home, to walk her dog, to be intimate with someone, or to be alone.

She experiences frequent flashbacks related to post-traumatic stress disorder, which has complicated her personal life and her work, she said. The teenagers crashed her car, and after $6,000 worth of repairs it was returned to her, but she could not sell it because of the crash history. “I feel dirty every time I sit in it,” she said.

McClendon was charged with three counts of aggravated sexual assault, as well as three felony counts associated with the car theft. In September he pleaded guilty but mentally ill to all charges.

The prosecution asked for a sentence of 67 years on the six offenses, arguing that he obviously could not be rehabilitated and was not succumbing to peer pressure — he was apparently the ringleader of the group, according to the victim’s testimony. “He doesn’t deserve another second chance; he’s already had that and it failed terribly,” said prosecutor Bernadette Schrempp.

For that part, the woman agreed. “I have to live with what happened for the rest of my life,” she said. “Leondre McClendon should as well.”

The defense argued that while he was being charged as an adult, he was still a minor, and debates continue nationwide about whether minors’ mental development is advanced enough for them to be considered truly beyond rehabilitation. At least one such case is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, according to defense attorney Cathy MacElroy.

Menges pointed out that McClendon was diagnosed with mental illness, but was unable as a juvenile to participate in treatment without the consent of a parent and did not receive it while in the custody of the state. In prison, he said, McClendon can receive treatment for mental illness, medication, and sex offender treatment.

The defense asked for a maximum sentence of 20 years, at which time Menges said McClendon “would not recognize the person sitting next to me, and not just because of his age.”

McClendon declined to speak, and there were no witnesses testifying on his behalf.

Haida called McClendon’s acts “degrading and despicable,” before imposing sentence. He said he recognized that McClendon was already a victim before he committed his crimes, but said it doesn’t excuse them.

“You’re not a mature individual yet,” Haida said. “You’re not old enough to understand ... but old enough to do things most of us couldn’t even think about.”

Haida imposed a 25-year sentence on the first two sexual assault counts, which will run consecutively and McClendon must serve at least 85 percent. The third sentence of 30 years must run concurrently with those sentences. On the car theft and associated charges, he imposed two more 10-year sentences, which must run consecutively to the others and of which he must serve 50 percent, and a sixth 10-year sentence to run concurrently.

In all, McClendon faces a maximum of 70 years in prison, with mandatory testing for sexually transmitted diseases, a full DNA profile, and upon release, he will be on probation and required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. The sentence is longer than that requested by either the defense or the prosecution, and MacElroy said it was likely that they would file a motion to reduce the sentence.

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly thanked Belleville Police, the state crime lab and the hospital workers for their work on the case, calling the sentence “strong and just.”

“The victim was incredibly brave and her voice was heard loud and clear,” Kelly said.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald