Crime

Belleville man testifies he thought sex was consensual in 2016 rape, carjacking case

Leondre McClendon
Leondre McClendon Provided

Against the advice of his attorneys, an 18-year-old man testified in his own defense on Wednesday against charges that he raped a woman in her Belleville garage after his accomplices stole her car.

Leondre McClendon confirmed that during the May 5, 2016, incident he took the woman’s cellphone from her, held a phone to her head as if it were gun and later drove her car at speeds of more than 100 mph down West Main Street in an attempt to evade police.

But at the time, he testified, he thought the sex they had was consensual. He testified that he had told the other two boys to go ahead and take the car and come back for him because he was going to have sex.

The point of the trial was not to determine McClendon’s guilt, one of his attorneys said. The point was for the jury to determine if McClendon should be convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault or criminal sexual assault.

McClendon, now 18, was charged in July 2016 with aggravated sexual assault, carjacking and aggravated robbery. The charges stem from the alleged May 5, 2016, attack on a woman in her 20s. Police say the woman was pulled into her garage on Parkridge Drive at about 10 p.m. and was confronted by three suspects who came into her garage. One of the suspects had a gun, and they demanded the keys to her 2015 Mini Cooper, her day planner and her cellphone.

Two of the suspects fled in the car, according to police. McClendon is accused of staying there with the woman.

The woman testified against McClendon in the jury trial on Monday, saying he had forced himself on her sexually. On Wednesday, he denied some of the sexual contact she testified had occurred. She told jurors that she believed he held a gun to her head during the sexual assault.

Sexual violence is a social and public health problem in the U.S. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey says nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.

Defense attorneys said on Wednesday that McClendon never had a gun, but he did have a phone that he held to her head during the robbery, but not during the sexual assault.

McClendon was the only witness called by the defense in the trial.

The jury started deliberations at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Before calling McClendon, defense attorney Grant Menges spoke directly to the jury.

“Leondre McClendon is an imbecile. He is dumb as hell,” Menges said, adding he was guilty of sexually assaulting the woman and the property crimes. Menges said the suspects had taken the woman’s keys and started the car, and while the woman was trying to get out of McClendon’s way, she brushed against him.

“He’s convinced she’s coming onto him. She’s not,” Menges said, saying McClendon believed it was separate from the robbery that had already taken place. “He’s 16, has delusions of grandeur ... and nothing dissuaded him from his notion that she is a willing participant. She’s not.”

“What you’re going to see at the end ... he was charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault; its simple criminal. That’s the whole point of this trial.”

McClendon’s attorneys, Cathy MacElroy and Menges, asked Judge Robert Haida on Wednesday to allow the jury to consider lesser offenses in their deliberations. The jury was given instruction in versions of sexual assault charges, with the main difference being whether or not the sexual assault was aggravated in nature, meaning a weapon or the threat of a weapon was used.

On the stand, McClendon admitted that he threatened to shoot the woman in the head early in the altercation. His lawyers said he did not have a gun, but he testified that he held the cellphone as if it were a gun.

That cellphone was in his pocket during the sexual assault, defense attorneys argued, so its presence should not be considered as aggravated. The prosecution argued it didn’t matter if the phone was a cellphone or a gun, or if it was in his pocket or in his hand, because the woman had a reasonable belief that there was a weapon present.

The first thing MacElroy said in closing was that the victim’s testimony “was extremely powerful.” But she said the charges issued were inappropriate and the jury should consider criminal instead of aggravated criminal sexual assault because McClendon didn’t have a gun or a phone in his hand at the time.

That’s why she asked the woman on Monday what she had been wearing, MacElroy said — to establish that the object was in the man’s pocket and not his hand during the assault, that McClendon used two free hands to remove the woman’s pants. On Monday, the woman testified that the object she believed to be a gun was held to her head during the assault.

“Leondre admits he did all these terrible things,” MacElroy said, but she maintained that the charge should have been simple criminal rather than aggravated.

McClendon originally pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Sept. 18, 2017, to the charges. He was sentenced to 70 years in prison, but he withdrew the plea in March and he requested a jury trial.

Mary Cooley: 618-239-2535, @MaryCooleyBND
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