At about 3 a.m. on July 21, 1982, a man entered a home in Jacksonville, North Carolina and raped a woman in her bedroom.
Less than two hours after the attack, the victim described the rapist as a black man 5 feet, 8 inches tall, about 160 to 165 pounds with almond-shaped eyes, high cheek bones and a freckle on the left side of his face. She said he was wearing dark shorts, white socks and high-top sneakers.
Not long after, Jacksonville police officer James Shingleton stopped a man who fit the description as he walked along on a nearby road. After a few questions, the man fled into the woods. Shingleton said the man was about 170 pounds, possibly had a beard or moustache and was wearing blue shorts, white knee socks and white high-top tennis shoes.
The victim came in to the police station to help create a composite drawing. At the same time, Delma Collins, the chief of detectives, who had recently completed a two-week source in investigative hypnosis, decided that Shingleton should be hypnotized to improve his recollection of the man he saw briefly in the pre-dawn roadside stop.
During the hypnosis, Shingleton’s description of the man changed. He said the man was clean-shaven, had blue stripes on his socks and he was wearing Nike brand shoes. The session was audio-taped.
Five days later, two officers saw Lesly Jean, a U.S. Marine stationed at nearby Camp Lejeune, at a Dunkin’ Doughnuts restaurant. They summoned Shingleton, who identified Jean as the man he had stopped at the roadside. Jean was arrested and a search of his Marine locker turned up a pair of blue shorts and a pair of white Nike sneakers.
On July 27, 1982, the victim was shown a photo line-up that included Jean’s picture. She could not identify anyone, but the next day she returned and said that one of the photographs made her “feel sick.” She viewed the photo line-up again and selected Jean’s photo as the one that made her feel ill. She pointed to another photo, saying the man looked “haunty.” She was unable to identify the clothing taken from Jean’s locker.
Collins then hypnotized the victim to “improve her memory.” Afterward she became more confident that Jean was her attacker. Police then created a voice exemplar tape which included Jean’s voice. Jean spoke with a Creole accent and the other voices included one with a northern U.S. accent, one Guamanian and one Puerto Rican accent. The victim said she believed Jean’s voice was that of her attacker.
On September 17, 1982, the victim viewed a three-man lineup that included Jean. One man was taller than Jean and the other was shorter. Neither of them had a military haircut similar to Jean’s. The victim selected Jean, who was indicted for rape in October 1982.
In November 1982, Jean went on trial in Onslow County. The prosecution’s case relied primarily on the testimony of the victim and Shingleton. A serology test of semen showed the rapist had a blood type similar to Jean—and 32 percent of the population as well. Near the end of the trial, the defense learned for the first time of the hypnosis and the audio tapes.
Jean presented four alibi witnesses—three bunkmates at Camp Lejeune who said he was in bed at the time of the attack and his commanding officer who said Jean was on the base at the time of the crime.
A jury convicted Jean on December 5, 1982 on four counts of sexual assault and rape. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison.
In 1983, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld Jean’s conviction.
In 1987, Jean filed a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus, but it was denied by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. On May 22, 1991, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed, finding that the failure to timely disclose the tapes of the hypnosis was a violation of Brady v. Maryland.
The charges against Jean were then dismissed and he was released.
Jean later filed a federal wrongful conviction suit, but the case was dismissed in July 2000 after the court held the officers had not acted in bad faith.
In November 2000, Jean obtained a court order for DNA testing on the evidence in the case. In January, 2001, the DNA tests eliminated Jean as the source of the evidence and on February 9, 2001, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley granted Jean a pardon based on innocence.
In March, 2001, the state awarded Jean $176,150 in compensation.
– Maurice Possley