Resolution reached in Waterfront Park robbery case

Penelope Murray and John Lawson Shafer

Two college students accused of fabricating a story about a 2010 robbery in Waterfront Park have entered a pre-trial program that will allow them to keep their records clean if they behave themselves.

The resolution, agreed to by all parties at a municipal court hearing in Charleston this afternoon, is not an admission of guilt. And don’t expect that to be forthcoming, the mother of one student said.

Barbara Murray’s daughter, Penelope, was one of the students charged with filing a false police report in the incident. The elder Murray insisted the hold-up did occur and she accused Charleston police of turning on her daughter when she needed their help.

“She has been a stellar citizen. She has not done one thing wrong in her life,” Barbara Murray said. “This has hurt our family and she has struggled for the past two years to rise above this.”

City and police officials had no immediate response to her statements.

Penelope Murray, then a 19-year-old College of Charleston sophomore, and Trident Technical College student John Lawson Shafer, 21, caused a stir on Nov. 23, 2010, when they showed up naked and muddy in the lobby of a downtown Charleston hotel. The students, both white, told people a black couple beat and robbed them in Waterfront Park before tossing them in the harbor.

The incident sparked a great deal of tension and community sympathy. Mayor Joe Riley even phoned the pair to pass along his regrets. A short time later, however, Charleston police said they determined the crime never occurred and the students’ story was a hoax.

The students surrendered to police in December 2010. The misdemeanor case has dragged on since that time, leaving the public to wonder what happened that night the young couple showed up at the HarborView Inn.

Barbara Murray said police have maligned her daughter’s reputation with no proof. She said Penelope has been in therapy for two years to recover from the incident, knowing that the people who robbed her are still out there.

Murray said the moral of this story is that people shouldn’t report a crime to the city police unless they have it on video, are willing to catch the crooks themselves and can afford a lawyer when police turn on them.

Shafer did not appear at today’s hearing, and his attorney, Andy Savage, signed the court paperwork for him. The pair will be required to complete community service while in the pre-trial program.

Barbara Murray said her daughter doesn’t mind volunteering her time. Penelope agreed to the resolution, she said, because “she just wants this nightmare to end after two harrowing years.”

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.