Crime

Jury finds Belleville man guilty in 2016 rape, carjacking case

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 jury convicted a Belleville man on six charges related to the rape and carjacking of a woman in west Belleville in 2016. He will be sentenced on Oct. 4

Leondre McClendon, now 18, admitted that he and two other juveniles followed the woman into her garage to get her car during the crime. McClendon was the ringleader, testimony revealed, giving orders to the two younger juveniles. The boys took the woman’s phone, car keys and day planner, which contained cash.

McClendon was found guilty on two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, one count of criminal sexual assault, one count of aggravated robbery, one count of vehicular hijacking and one count of aggravated unlawful possession of a stolen motor vehicle.

McClendon pleaded guilty to the same charges in September 2017 and was sentenced to up to 70 years in prison. He withdrew that plea in March, in favor of a jury trial.

During testimony this week, the seven men and five women on the jury heard that the two other boys involved had trouble starting the woman’s car after they took her phone, money and keys, and she assisted them with the push-button start when they asked. During that time, she brushed against McClendon in the garage next to the car, he said on Wednesday, and he thought she was coming on to him.

“She banging in against me ... that’s when I got (aroused),” McClendon said when he testified against his lawyers’ advice. “My head (fouled) up.”

Grant Menges, the McClendon attorney who led the questioning, specified in remarks to the jury that the woman was in no way responsible for the rape.

“He’s convinced she’s coming onto him. She’s not. But he believes it’s totally separate” and that the woman wants sex after he has robbed her and threatened to shoot her.

Judge Robert Haida gave the jury the option of convicting on lesser charges. Initially the defense declined that, but by Wednesday morning had requested that lesser charges be included for the sexual assault.

The sentencing range for the aggravated charges is 6 to 30 years, and 4 to 15 years for the lesser charges.

St. Clair County State Attorney Brendan Kelly said the county is pleased with the verdict.

“Thank you to the jury for thoughtful deliberations,” he said. “The police and prosecution did an outstanding job in this case. Most of all, we should all be very proud of the victim in this case and the great courage that the victim displayed.”

Mary Cooley: 618-239-2535, @MaryCooleyBND
Hana Muslic: 618-239-262, @h_muslic
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