Prisoner of fear: Victim, prosecutors question rapist’s 6-year sentence

The rape victim said that by going to trial, 'hopefully it will help other victims to come forward.'

Grace Beahm

She awoke during a savage beating between a wall and a nightclub trash pile in 2008 to fight the man who was raping her. Pushing nightmares of the attack aside, the woman testified against him, and a jury returned a guilty verdict last month.

So why does she still feel unsafe?

Because 49-year-old James Lewis Alexander Jr. was sentenced to six years at the conclusion of the trial that ended Dec. 15.

The woman, the prosecutors in the case and rape victims’ advocates all believe the sentence is too short to fit the crime.

Judge Deadra Jefferson, who sentenced Alexander, stipulated that he must serve at least 85 percent of the six years. That means he could be released in about five.

The woman he raped feels that she will be a prisoner of fear for much longer than that.

“I’m OK, until I get that phone call that he was released. Then I will have to change my name and move,” the 32-year-old woman said.

Alexander’s DNA had helped secure his conviction, and his numerous prior convictions for mostly petty crimes had led the woman to expect that he would be sentenced to at least near the 30-year maximum allowed for first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

“It was the best feeling when I heard the jury say he was guilty. There was so much emotion, I burst into tears. I was so happy and relieved, but the judge gave him only six years,” she said.

The woman, who is not being named because The Post and Courier does not identify the victims of sexual assault, sat down recently in her Charleston apartment to tell her story.

Jury acted quickly

The jury that heard the case in Charleston County General Session Court needed two hours to find Alexander guilty of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. The jury was given the option of finding him guilty of a lesser offense — aggravated assault — but chose not to.

After the verdict was read, Alexander pleaded guilty to another pending charge — receiving stolen goods — and was given a 30-day sentence to run concurrently with his time for sexual assault.

Formerly of Teal Avenue on James Island, Alexander has a record dating to 1980. Before 2011, he was convicted of receiving stolen goods, third-degree assault, criminal conspiracy, marijuana possession and disorderly conduct.

He was charged in 2009 with second-degree criminal sexual conduct but not convicted, according to a State Law Enforcement Division background check.

The record shows that he’s a convicted habitual traffic offender with numerous convictions for driving under suspension.

Jefferson said last week that as a judge she is bound by ethics not to discuss anything that is currently before the court, has been before the court, or might come before the court.

According to the S.C. Code of Law (16-3-652), first-degree criminal sexual conduct “is a felony punishable by not more than 30 years, according to the discretion of the court.”

In response to a Post and Courier inquiry, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Corrections said Alexander will get no credit for the approximately 100 days he was confined in the Cannon Detention Center before his trial. The credit could have shortened his prison stay.

Sentence questioned

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she and assistant prosecutors are puzzled by the brevity of the sentence handed Alexander. She said her office requested that Alexander be given “a substantial sentence.”

Wilson said she doesn’t know why Jefferson chose not to issue the maximum. “We certainly saw the case differently,” she said.

Melonea Marek, executive director of People Against Rape, said the courts rarely hand out maximum sentences for sexual assault.

“They are all too low. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard them get the 30 years for sexual assault,” Marek said.

A review of local court records shows that a majority of the 23 sentences issued from 2007 to the present for first-degree criminal sexual conduct were closer to the max than to the minimum. Nine who were convicted got 30 years, and one received a life sentence because other crimes and criminal history were involved.

Eight received at least 23 years. The shortest sentence in the group was Alexander’s, and the next-shortest was 12 years.

Wilson said the case against Alexander was solid. It was bolstered by excellent testimony from the victim and the people she was with the night of the attack, and with testimony about statements Alexander made to a friend, Wilson said.

On top of that, she said, forensics matched DNA taken from the victim with Alexander.

Wilson said that during the police investigation, Alexander changed his story several times. He denied any sexual contact with the victim until DNA proved otherwise, and when he testified, he claimed the sex was consensual.

“The jury obviously thought that he was lying, and the jury came back with a first-degree criminal sexual assault conviction, rather than convicting him of a lesser offense,” Wilson said.

Oct. 12, 2008

The woman said she had hoped that going through the trial would help her move at least a bit past the awful events of Oct. 12, 2008.

“Nobody wants to go through that, but hopefully it will help other victims to come forward,” she said.

She said Alexander was free on bail during his trial and snickered and laughed confidently at times. “He was able to walk around where I was walking around,” she said. She said she and her sister heard Alexander claim “he was going to get off.”

Wilson said she wasn’t aware of close encounters between Alexander and the woman in or near court.

The woman and her sister testified.

“My sister said she looked right at him (while on the stand). She said it kept her stronger. Me, I wanted to keep my distance.”

Regarding Alexander’s testimony, she said: “It was such a joke, the words that were coming out of his mouth, all lies.” Chris Lizzi, who represented Alexander at the December trial, did not respond to requests for an interview.

The woman’s account of what happened at trial was backed up by assistant solicitors Timmy Finch and Spencer Compton, who prosecuted the case.

Finch stated in December that before tests made on his DNA sample, Alexander was proclaiming his innocence and was confident that the DNA would clear him.

“After the DNA evidence led to his identification, he changed his story to ‘consent.’ During the trial the consent defense evolved to an ridiculous scenario that did not hold water in light of the physical injuries to the victim and other eyewitness testimony,” Finch said.

Compton praised “the victim’s own bravery and wherewithal to follow through with prosecution and hold Alexander accountable for the assault.”

The woman said a series of unforeseen circumstances put her in the place where she was assaulted. She had planned to go to a Citadel football game with her sister and some friends, but when tickets were not available, the group opted for an evening at the Island Bar and Grill on Folly Road.

“I liked to do a lot of karaoke,” she recalled.

The friend who had given the group the ride to the club left early, leaving them without transportation home. After exiting the club’s front door, the woman reached for her cellphone to call someone for a ride, when she realized she must have left the phone in the club.

Because it was late, and she could not re-enter the club through its front door, she walked around the side of the building toward the club’s rear entrance.

That’s when, she said, Alexander, a complete stranger to her, pounced on her.

Crime of opportunity

“I heard footsteps and then I was knocked unconscious,” she remembered. “I woke up with him raping me and thought I was going to die. He is a huge guy and it was a violent attack, but I did everything I could. I was so distraught afterward that I buried a lot of it,” she said.

She said she didn’t see Alexander before the attack, and believes he was in front of the club “and he saw me walking back there by myself, and he saw the opportunity.”

Meanwhile, she said, her sister and friends had gone to a nearby barbershop to use the phone.

She’s not sure why the heavyset,

6-foot-2 Alexander — who savagely beat her with his hands — didn’t kill her, but “something scared him off, or I don’t think I’d be here today.”

Many details remain cloudy, she said. “From what I know, the barber found me, but I said, ‘Get away.’ I didn’t want anybody near me,” she recalled.

“I had bruises and cuts all over my body, and they got worse a couple of days after that,” she added.

Wilson said the woman was treated for more than 20 bruises and cuts.

The woman’s sister and a friend saw Alexander leaving the scene on foot and then on a bicycle, and helped Charleston police identify him.

Alexander was arrested in August 2010 and released on bail in December of that year.

The woman praised police, hospital personnel and the Solicitor’s Office, but feels the sentencing was “a big slap in the face.”

“It was all those feelings all over again. I was scared to go out to my car,” she said. “To find out he’s going to be back on the street ... was just devastating.”

“It was a very stressful time,” she said about the trial. “It’s just an awful, awful experience, but hopefully it helps somebody.”

Allyson Bird contributed to this report. Reach Edward C. Fennell at 937-5560.