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Accused rapist in court
Nov 24, 2004 12:00 am
His crimes allegedly covered half the state before ending abruptly in the Highway 109 area, but now Michael Ellsworth Sheppard's only destination is Wilson County Criminal Court.
Sheppard will go before Criminal Court Judge J.O. Bond on Monday in his first local court appearance since he brazenly abducted a Linwood Road area market clerk as part of a five-day crime spree which reached from western North Carolina into West Wilson County.
Sheppard, 53, has remained in federal custody since surrendering to officers who converged on the Hwy. 109 area July 7, one day after the kidnapping.
Sheppard faces numerous charges, among them kidnapping and assault, as a result of the highly publicized abduction, one of several crimes attributed to the suspect during his alleged five-day spree.
Though heavy security and a large media contingent are expected to be on hand when Sheppard enters the courtroom, Assistant District Attorney Bobby Hibbett indicated little is likely to happen in his case.
Hibbett said he expects only another pretrial court appearance date will be set for the suspect, who is being represented by the public defender's office.
Authorities recently made public for the first time surveillance video of the 40-year-old woman's abduction. On the tape he flashes a phony police badge and banters with his victim before suddenly forcing her from the market at gunpoint.
Though she endured an assault at the hands of Sheppard, authorities indicated they expected his victim to fully recover from the ordeal. Numerous offices also praised the victim's quick wits in surviving the kidnapping.
"She was exhausted, nearly in shock, but she was coherent," Sheriff Terry Ashe said moments after the exhaustive manhunt came to an end when Sheppard suddenly surrendered to officers and freed his victim. "As far as we're concerned, this woman is very, very courageous. She's the one who should get credit for her own survival … She used all of her adult common sense and wits to survive what could have been a fatal situation."
The woman's family was described as "horrified" during her 18-hours in captivity. An acquaintance of the victim at the time described her as "the nicest person you will ever meet."
"She's just an all-around good person," said District 15 County Commissioner Billy Swindell, who has known the woman for several years. "She's just got the best personality you will ever meet in your life."
According to authorities, Sheppard's capture marked the end of a five-day crime spree in which the suspect – who in the past served an Alabama prison term for assault – committed a rape in Cocke County then an abduction just an hour later in neighboring Greene County.
Sheppard was also a suspect in a number of auto thefts and carjackings in the eastern portion of the state, an FBI agent said.
"We feel like he was connected to a whole series of events in this area before the abduction in Lebanon was reported," said FBI Special Agent Gary Kidder, who is based in East Tennessee.
Ashe described Sheppard as a "very, very dangerous predator" whose past has been marked by repeated arrests for violent crimes.
"This guy is evil," Ashe said at the time Sheppard was caught. "He's a living, breathing nightmare."
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.