Charges dropped in rape, home invasion case
by Staff Writer
by Josh Lanier
CORNELIUS – The Mecklenburg County District Attorney has dropped a number of charges against a man accused of a September 2009 rape and kidnapping, saying the evidence collected by Cornelius police was insufficient and flawed.
Michael Ray Cherry, 40, of Huntersville, was released earlier this month from the Mecklenburg County Jail, where he’d been held since his October 2009 arrest.
Cherry was accused of taking part in a Sept. 9, 2009 Cornelius home invasion where the three people inside were blindfolded and robbed, and a 23-year-old woman was raped. The woman told police three suspects stole a pick-up truck from the house and forced her to ride around with them until they dropped her off in Huntersville, police have said.
Cherry, who was convicted of a string of home and vehicle break-ins in 2005, became a suspect in the investigation after police found his DNA on a vodka bottle inside the home and on the steering wheel of the stolen truck.
But Assistant District Attorney Samantha Pendergrass said in a brief filed with the court, Cornelius police didn’t do enough to secure the chain of custody of the vodka bottle and that there were multiple problems with the arrest.
“The only identification of the defendant as one of the perpetrators of this crime is that his DNA was found on an item left on scene,” she wrote. “There are multiple inconsistencies in police statements over when this item was collected and by whom it was collected. There are also numerous people who could have had contact with the item after the crime took place and before it was collected by police.”
Pendergrass questioned the DNA on the truck’s steering wheel because the suspects wore gloves.
“It is feasible the defendant left his DNA on both items at another time unrelated to this case,” Pendergrass wrote.
Casting more doubt over the arrest was the fact none of the victims could pick Cherry out of a photo line-up and the female victim said her rapist had a scar on his cheek. Cherry doesn’t have a scar, Pendergrass said.
Cornelius Lt. Detective Jennifer Thompson said Cherry remains a suspect in the case and the dismissal doesn’t put the investigation back at square one.
“We’re not closing the doors on this one,” she said. “… The pressure on the prosecution is the evidence has to be beyond a reasonable doubt. We just have to get there in our investigation.”
This is the second time in recent months that Cornelius Police have had an arrest overturned by the district attorney for lack of evidence.
In November, arson charges were dropped against a Cornelius man after the Mecklenburg County District Attorney said there wasn’t enough evidence to secure a conviction in the case.
Anyone with information in the home invasion and rape is asked to call Lt. Jennifer Thompson at 704-892-1363.