Sikeston teen accused of rape waives preliminary hearing

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Sikeston, Mo., teenager accused in the home invasion and rape of an 80-year-old Cape Girardeau woman waived his right to a preliminary hearing Thursday before Circuit Judge Gary Kamp in Cape Girardeau County.

Mitchell T. West, 17, is due back in court at 9 a.m. Jan. 26 before Judge Benjamin F. Lewis.

He faces felony charges of rape, attempted forcible sodomy, theft of a credit device and burglary after he allegedly forced his way into the woman's south Cape Girardeau home and raped her Nov. 30.

Waiving the preliminary exam, Swingle said, cleared the way for the arraignment. Beyond that, he said, "all the choices are up to the defense."

While it was West's decision to waive the preliminary hearing, said his attorney, Ted Liszewski, he advised West to enter a not guilty plea Jan. 26.

Liszewski said the not-guilty plea is necessary in order to gain the right to review the evidence.

"Just because he pleads not guilty at his arraignment doesn't mean that a guilty plea is out of the realm," Liszewski said. "Nearly everyone pleads not guilty at the arraignment so they can review all police reports and related documents. In many cases that's for the lawyer, so that he understands the nature of the charges, the extent of punishment and the consequences of the punishment."

If convicted of rape, Liszew­ski said, his client would, under Missouri law, serve 85 percent of a sentence, "if not more."

Swingle said Thursday's waiver meant "five minutes in court as opposed to 30."

The victim was in the courtroom, surrounded by family. A family member said she is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances.

Frances Graham, who has for three years lived in the same neighborhood as the victim and was a witness in the case, was upset that she missed a day's work in order to be in the courtroom.

"To me he was a stranger," she said of West.

She said she worries about her home while she is working at one of her two health-care jobs. She worries about her own safety and for the safety of other women.

"I don't know what I'd do if that happened to my momma," she said.

But after losing a day's pay in order to be present and testify, she said she was not sure she could come to another court date.

"He needs to get what he deserves," she said. "And I feel for the lady, but I've got bills to pay."

Swingle said, "People have to honor subpoenas. It's just part of the inconvenience of the court system, that anybody who has been a witness to a crime has to come to court as many times as needed."

"We have had to put people in jail before when they don't honor a subpoena. We've only had to do it about once a year or so," Swingle said.

In addition to his court date with Judge Lewis, West also faces a bench trial in Judge Kamp's courtroom at 10 a.m. Feb. 6 over an unrelated misdemeanor.

Swingle said that on June 24, West was charged with possession of an imitation controlled substance, for having an off-white rocklike substance that appeared to be crack cocaine.

West remains in the Cape Girardeau County Jail.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

388-3646

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