False-report suspect requests trial by jury

Penelope Jade Murray, John Lawson Shafer

The case of two college students accused of fabricating a story about being robbed and beaten at Waterfront Park has been postponed after one defendant requested a jury trial, authorities said.

Trident Technical College student John Lawson Shafer, 21, and his 19-year-old girlfriend, College of Charleston sophomore Penelope Jade Murray, were due in court Tuesday to answer to charges of filing a false police report.

Murray, however, has requested a trial before a jury, prompting a delay. No date for that proceeding has been set, Charleston Criminal Court Prosecutor Melinda Lucka said.

Shafer received a continuance and is now scheduled to appear in court at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 25, Lucka said.

Neither suspect appeared in the courtroom Tuesday, and their attorneys could not be reached for comment.

The pair surrendered to Charleston police this month to face criminal charges in connection with a Nov. 23 incident in which they claimed to have been robbed, assaulted and tossed in Charleston Harbor by a black couple.

Since the arrests, police repeatedly have refused to say why the couple might have invented a story about being held up moments before they showed up naked, wet, bruised and dripping mud at the Harbourview Inn on Vendue Range.

Police would only say that the couple's initial story was determined to be false after conducting follow-up interviews. Arrest affidavits also said Shafer admitted the story was a lie.

The pair were charged with a city offense, not the more severe state law that makes it a felony to falsely report a felony crime, such as armed robbery. If convicted under the city charge, the maximum each could face is a 30-day jail term or a $500 fine.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556.