At around dusk on February 8, 1993, 24-year-old Melissa Hellstrom was jogging on Ocean Boulevard in Virginia Beach, Virginia when a man who was also jogging grabbed her and attempted to drag her toward the beach. She managed to break free and called police.
She provided a description of her attacker and a composite sketch was prepared by police. At the time, police were attempting to solve a series of rapes and believed the attacks were perpetrated by a serial rapist.
Two weeks later, Hellstrom was driving and saw 25-year-old John Tingle Jr. jogging on the street blocks from where she had been attacked. She believed he was her attacker and called police. Tingle was arrested and charged with kidnapping and assault.
Tingle, a resident of Ocean City, Maryland who had no criminal record and was studying to be a chef, was released on bond and went on trial in August 1993. Hellstrom identified him as her attacker and Tingle was convicted by a jury on August 18. He was taken into custody pending his sentencing.
On November 24, 1993, when Tingle was scheduled to be sentenced, his attorneys asked for a delay. The defense lawyers said that prosecutors had told them that a woman who had been raped gave a description of her attacker that was similar to the description given by Hellstrom. A composite sketch was drawn based on the rape victim’s description. But when she was shown the composite that was drawn based on Hellstrom’s description, she said it looked more like her attacker than the composite based on her own description.
Prosecutors opposed a delay, saying the rape victim had been shown a photo of Tingle and did not believe he looked like her attacker.
Tingle was then sentenced to 10 years in prison.
On December 6, 1993, another hearing was held on a motion to set aside the conviction. Six police officers testified that they no longer believed Tingle was Hellstrom’s attacker. The motion, however, was denied.
On December 24, police arrested 23-year-old Kerri Charity on a charge of raping a woman in Virginia Beach. On Christmas Day, Hellstrom read a newspaper article about the arrest that included a picture of Charity. She called prosecutors and asked to see the actual photograph, and after seeing it, said she was no longer convinced Tingle was her attacker.
When Hellstrom was taken to a court hearing for Charity and saw him in person, she told authorities she could no longer say with confidence that Tingle was the person who grabbed her.
Hellstrom testified at another hearing in Tingle’s case on January 12, 1994, again saying that she was unsure of his guilt. Tingle was released on bond that day. On January 19, 1994, his convictions were vacated and the case was dismissed.
Charity, who became known as “The North End Rapist,” was ultimately convicted of numerous rapes and attacks on women and received 10 life sentences in prison. He was not prosecuted for the attack on Hellstrom.
– Maurice Possley