Woman testifies at Belleville rape trial following withdrawal of guilty plea in March

Leondre McClendon
Leondre McClendon Provided

The woman who first reported her rape and carjacking in May 2016 took the stand Monday afternoon against Leondre McClendon.

McClendon, now 18, faces six charges — three related to sexual assault with a weapon and three related to the carjacking of her vehicle from the garage and robbery. He had pleaded guilty and was sentenced in November, but that verdict was set aside by Judge Robert Haida in March in favor of the jury trial after McClendon said he didn’t know what he was agreeing to.

It is the second time the woman, now 24, has had to testify. She testified during McClendon’s sentencing hearing in November.

On Monday, the woman testified that she had returned to her home after 9 p.m. on May 5, 2016. She was approached by three people, she said, and one went behind her and repeatedly threatened to shoot her. The men took her phone, car keys and her work planner that contained some cash, she said.

The man with the gun then told the others to take the car, she said. The other two suspects were juveniles, and their cases are not made public.

“He was very clearly giving the orders,” she said of the man behind her.

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

Defense attorneys had few questions for the prosecution’s witnesses on Monday afternoon; the first questions defense attorney Cathy MacElroy asked were to confirm what the woman was wearing the night she said she was attacked.

The woman also testified that she never clearly saw the men’s faces because they had their faces covered in scarves or bandanas and the area was dimly lighted.

“He kept saying, ‘Shut up or I’ll shoot,’ and they kept asking me how to start the car,” she said of her car’s push-button start.

The men “couldn’t start (the car) and they thought I was (expletive) with them,” she said.

After the two men left in her car, the third kept the object at her head and raped her, she said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Bernadette Schrempp led the state’s questioning of the witness, asking if the woman believed the person behind her was capable of shooting her. The woman testified yes.

The woman was preceded in court by Belleville Police Officer William Lovell, who said the woman was “nervous, frightened” at the initial interview. But he said she was able to clearly and calmly answer his questions about the number of suspects and her vehicle.

MacElroy confirmed the woman said she never actually saw a gun.

Judge Haida sent the jury home before 4 p.m. Monday, saying the seven men and seven women needed to be back at the courthouse at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.