Jury struggles on verdict in lengthy trial of 2020 Asheville rape, kidnap case (2024)

Ryley OberAsheville Citizen Times

Editor's note: This story contains descriptions of sexual violence.

ASHEVILLE — After nearly three full days of deliberation in Buncombe County Superior Court, a jury remains split on whether to find a former Asheville man guilty in an alleged kidnap and rape in 2020. The trial enters its 16th day Nov. 9.

William Todd Murell, 58, was arrested on Feb. 19, 2020, then again on March 10, 2020, and charged with first-degree forcible rape, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree sex offense and assault inflicting serious bodily injury, according to a previous Asheville Police Department news release.

Court records suggest there’s evidence of two alleged victims, but due to Superior Court Judge David Strickland’s order not to combine the cases in response to pre-trial motions, the jury has not seen that evidence and has only heard testimony from one female victim.

Arrest warrants also point to two victims, with the offenses against the first woman occurring Feb. 1-10, 2020, and the offenses against the second occurring March 4-6, 2020, the Citizen Times previously reported.

The judge decided not to combine the cases because "the court cannot find that these two incidents constituted 'a series of acts or transactions connected together or constituting parts of a single scheme or plan,'" Strickland said in an email to the attorneys on the case.

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The Citizen Times reached out to both women but does not release the names of sexual assault victims without their permission.

The second victim ― who is not a plaintiff in the current trial ― said that a stranger named Todd Murell picked her up from the Ingles on Merrimon Avenue on March 4, 2020, with another man she knew, according to a police search warrant application. The victim told police that Murell pulled her by her hair, punched her, put his “entire hand into her vagin*” and unsuccessfully attempted to rape her during the next two days.

An APD officer noted the alleged victim had a “very large swollen, entirely closed shut left eye,” which the woman claimed was caused by Murell, according to the application.

The alleged second victim reported that during the two days she was at Murell’s house, he spoke repeatedly of a woman with the first victim’s same name and showed a video of the woman “on her hands and knees crawling on the floor and crying,” court documents say.

Initial coverage: Police charge Asheville man with rape, sex offense, kidnapping

A lengthy trial, missing memory and events of 2020

Murell and the first alleged victim met in a week-long alcoholism detox center in Asheville in December 2019, Murell told the Citizen Times and the victim, 47, testified in court. After rehab, they started going to meetings together, according to court proceedings.

In January of 2020, the 47-year-old went to Murell’s house near Beaver Lake in North Asheville multiple times, but at the beginning of February, she went to Murell’s house and claims she was not allowed to leave, according to court proceedings.

“I remember him being at the door. I remember him saying hurry up and get some things,” the victim said on the witness stand in October. She then said she packed a bag and went with him, but “at that point, I was probably inebriated.”

About 10 days later, she showed up at Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville, reporting she was sexually and physically assaulted and suffering brain hemorrhaging, or bleeding in the brain, and a midline shift of her temporal lobe.

Her provider at the hospital testified in court Oct. 5 that this condition could result in death without medical intervention, could affect memory and motor functions, and that the victim was emergently transferred to Mission Hospital for critical care.

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When she was admitted to Pardee, the victim’s blood alcohol content was determined to be .335, a level “considered nearly lethal,” prosecuting attorney Katie Kurdys said during closing statements. Drug toxicology also showed barbiturates and benzodiazepine in her system, according to Kurdys.

When the woman accused Murell of raping her during those 10 days, Murell allegedly pulled her off the couch by her ankle, causing her to hit her head on a coffee table, Kurdys said during court proceedings Nov. 6. Murell confessed to the wife of the victim’s ex-husband that he had done this, saying he “lost it on her,” according to court documents.

Kurdys also stated that Murell stomped on the left side of the victim’s head, causing bruising on her forearms when she went to shield herself from him. Additionally, the woman claims that Murell dragged her down concrete steps, dragged her across carpet to an area of his house he called the “punishment corner,” held a knife to her throat, burned her back with cigarettes, and made her sit naked in a mud puddle in his backyard while he smoked a cigarette, Kurdys said.

Kurdys showed a video of two APD officers responding to Murell’s home for a welfare check, stating that the two young officers were on the force “barely over a year” and that “the system failed” the alleged victim. APD officers went to his house three separate times for welfare checks during the 10 days prior to the victim’s admission to the hospital.

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Police bodycam footage from Feb. 10, 2020, played in court, shows an officer asking Murell if he could speak to the victim alone, to which Murell said "yes."

After a lengthy interaction where the woman appears and sounds intoxicated, the officer asks, “Is everything OK with you and Todd?” After a long pause, the woman said "yes." Bodycam also shows Murell asking the victim if she’d like to go to the hospital.

In other bodycam footage shown in court, the victim’s then-wife is seen telling an officer that Murell is “keeping her drunk” and she “has no chance to have a clear thought.”

“Tonight on the phone to me he said, ‘I’m not letting her go,’” the ex-wife told officers, adding that she thinks Murell took the victim’s phone, since she stopped responding to calls or texts, even from her three children.

One of Murell’s defense attorneys, Steve Lindsay, said they are working with circ*mstantial evidence and asked the jury to consider the different conclusions that can be pulled from the evidence. Lindsay said that from the beginning, the victim acknowledged she couldn’t remember “much of anything,” which Lindsay said could be due to her traumatic brain injury or because of blackouts from alcohol.

“Every time (the victim) is faced with an inconsistency, her story shifts,” Lindsay said in court.

Both attorneys pointed to the woman’s underwear and hair extensions as support for their side, Kurdys saying Murell kept these items as trophies. Lindsay pointed out how there were no tears in the clothing or bends in the bra’s hooks that would show a forcible rape occurred, and there was no hair found in the hair extensions that would show they were forcibly ripped from the victim’s head as she claims.

More: Asheville police: Man facing rape, indecent liberties charges arrested, didn't show in court

Records say the two victims did not know each other.

The Citizen Times spoke to one of Murell’s attorneys, Al Messer, who declined to comment until the trial ends and the jury has reached a verdict.

The jury will continue to deliberate Nov. 9, and if they are unable to reach a unanimous decision, Strickland may call a mistrial.

Need help?

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted and needs help or resources, contact:

Ryley Ober is the Public Safety Reporter for Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at rober@gannett.com and follow her on Twitter @ryleyober

Jury struggles on verdict in lengthy trial of 2020 Asheville rape, kidnap case (2024)


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