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Sheppard indicted for rape
Jul 16, 2004 12:00 am
A man already in federal custody has been indicted by a Wilson County grand jury on six charges resulting from last week's armed abduction of a local woman.
As local investigators appeared before a grand jury seeking charges against Michael Ellsworth Sheppard, 53, the suspect was once again linked to other crimes that allegedly occurred during a 350-mile crime spree starting in western North Carolina and ending with his quiet surrender near Highway 109 in Wilson County.
Ellsworth was indicted on charges of aggravated armed robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, theft by possession and three counts of aggravated rape, Sheriff Terry Ashe confirmed Wednesday.
As lead investigator Det. Lt. Ricky Knight appeared before the grand jury, other officers once again sent out a nationwide alert informing other agencies of Sheppard's arrest, Ashe said.
"We had quite a bit of activity when the first Teletype was sent out, and we're sending out another one in the hopes of helping some other agencies clear up some of the crimes they're investigating that seem similar to his," Ashe said.
He said authorities Wednesday confirmed Sheppard stole the gun used in his abduction of the local victim in Cookeville, where he also allegedly attempted to kidnap a young woman.
"She's lucky she didn't become a victim. She was working at a fireworks stand and he had been there a little while, talking to her a lot like he was talking to our victim, but then some customers came in just as something started to happen," said Ashe, adding he expects agencies in several other jurisdictions to file charges against Sheppard.
"Based on what we're being told, I'd say there's a very good chance of that," the sheriff remarked.
He said profiles of the suspect compiled by FBI agents and other agencies are being forwarded to law enforcement organizations interested in Sheppard's recent activities.
One telling report of the investigation into the suspect indicates he is "primarily an opportunist above all else," Ashe said.
"He's such a predator," he said. "We checked, and every stolen car he used, he was able to steal because somebody left the keys in the ignition. He is primarily an opportunist above all else. That's how he chooses his vehicles and that's how he chooses his victims, usually young, attractive females. He waits until he sees his opportunity, and then he strikes."
Ashe said the "courage and determination" of the local victim – who was abducted from a Linwood Road area market – in enduring her 20-hour ordeal at the hands of her captor has likely saved others from a similar fate.
"Her courageous efforts not only kept her alive, she ended up causing the capture of a man those of us in law enforcement consider a true predator," Ashe said. "I think we can safely say she's saved a lot of other people, probably a lot of young women and teenage girls, through pure courage and determination."
It is the policy of The Lebanon Democrat not to identify victims of rape or sexual abuse.
In the days leading up to the local abduction, Sheppard stole several cars and allegedly committed at least one carjacking, authorities have said.
At one point, he raped a woman in one county and then one hour later abducted and assaulted a second woman in a neighboring county.
It was charges from one of those incidents that landed Sheppard – who served a 15-year Alabama prison sentence for rape – in federal custody as soon as last week's massive manhunt ended near Hwy. 109 with his surrender and release of the victim.
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.