The man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl has the mind of a child and the rap sheet of a career criminal.
Marcus Maurice Kennedy, 28, came before a judge Thursday, hunched over and staring at the floor. The judge set court hearings and assigned his case to the public defender's office.
The procedure was familiar to Kennedy, who has been arrested more than 30 times in the past decade, charged with more than 50 crimes.
Kennedy was convicted of a previous sex offense against a minor. But despite his record, he's been to prison only once, for about nine months, and served mostly short stints in jail.
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And despite his diagnosed mental disorder, there is no indication a judge deemed him enough of a threat to mandate intensive treatment – a move family members believe could have prevented Wednesday's attack.
“That boy's mind is pretty much gone,” said Kennedy's aunt Verlene McMoore, who said she repeatedly tried to get him help.
“He needed to be under constant supervision somewhere, and no one ever made that happen. And now my heart is breaking for that little girl.”
McMoore, who raised Kennedy from age 4 until he left home at 16, said he was hit by a truck as a child. The accident crushed his skull and left him functioning at a level barely above mental retardation.
Kennedy also suffers from a severe mental illness: schizoaffective disorder, a condition that can lead to mood swings, hallucinations and delusions. His aunt said he has struggled to keep a job or a home, and has lived in shelters and on the streets.
In 2005, after failing to register as a sex offender, the court ordered a mental evaluation of Kennedy, which determined that his “limited intellect” and substance abuse problems have left him poorly equipped to cope with life outside institutions.
Despite this report, authorities did little to help – or stop – Kennedy, who was arrested more than a dozen times after that evaluation.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Rodney Monroe said Thursday he understood the public's frustration with repeat offenders. About one-third of the cases against Kennedy have been dismissed.
But Monroe stopped short of blaming the district attorney's office, saying: “I think there's opportunities to change philosophies, strategies and that sort of thing, and I think there's a willingness to engage in some of that.”
Mecklenburg District Attorney Peter Gilchrist did not return multiple calls to his office Thursday. But he did send an e-mail statement, saying he couldn't comment on the case for fear of jeopardizing Kennedy's right to a fair trial.
“I am sure that everyone is well aware at this point of the problems that can occur when a prosecutor makes comments about criminal charges, the defendants facing criminal charges or about the circumstances leading to criminal charges,” he said.
Far from home
It was before 8 a.m. Wednesday when the middle school girl caught a city bus near her home, then switched to another bus at Charlotte's main transit station uptown. Kennedy boarded the same bus.
The girl and her mother recently moved outside her school zone. The girl was trekking across town reach her old school bus stop.
Around 8 a.m., she got off the bus on Dalecrest Drive in the Derita/Statesville neighborhood in northern Charlotte. Kennedy followed her, forced her into bushes and raped her, police said.
A maintenance supervisor at the nearby apartments stopped the attack while others chased Kennedy down and dragged him back to the scene, where police cuffed him.
School officials said the victim's new address would have had her attending J.T. Williams Middle School.
It is unclear why she was traveling so far from home, but the school system allows students to attend schools outside their zone, if they provide their own transportation.
CATS officials said Thursday they advise that children 12 and younger not ride the bus without an adult. But Olaf Kinard, a marketing manager for CATS, said it's difficult to know how old children are.
Long criminal record
In the past decade, Kennedy has been arrested on charges that range from felony drug possession, to assault, to taking indecent liberties with a child.
In 2002, Kennedy was 21 when charged with taking indecent liberties with a child under age 16. He was friends with the girl, his aunt said.
He was put on probation and six months of house arrest, ordered to undergo a mental health screening and to register as a sex offender.
In 2006, after violating his probation, Kennedy was evaluated for his ability to stand trial on a charge of failing to register a new address on the sex offender registry.
In a letter to District Court Judge Phil Howerton, a state forensic screener wrote that Kennedy suffers from a chronic mental disorder that at times makes him psychotic.
Kennedy eventually pleaded guilty on Nov. 6, 2006 – and was put back on probation.
But he again violated the terms two weeks later by leaving the Uptown Shelter for homeless men without notifying his probation officer.
Kennedy went to prison in May 2007 and served almost nine months.
“He never followed the rules,” said Darius Deese, Charlotte's chief probation officer. “So we revoked his probation and sent him to prison.”
Since his release Feb. 11, records show, he was arrested seven times on drug and other charges including trespassing and simple assault. Three of those cases were dismissed, three resulted in short jail stints; and one case is pending.
‘A homeless 5-year-old'
McMoore first heard the news about her nephew from friends at church, who called and asked if her nephew was named “Marcus.”
“It floored me,” she said. “I can't get it out of my head.”
McMoore said she has not seen Kennedy in seven months, though he'd called a few times. Several times in the past few years, she set up appointments to get him disability payments and mental health counseling. But Kennedy never showed up.
“He just doesn't understand,” she said. “He is like a 5-year-old, a homeless 5-year-old.”
McMoore said she wanted the courts to intervene and get her nephew the help he needed. But Grayce Crockett, head of Mecklenburg County Mental Health, said Thursday there was little her department could do.
Crockett said that without a court order, mental health officials cannot force someone to get treatment. And usually court orders are involved only when a person is deemed a danger to themselves or others.
“Otherwise, treatment is voluntary,” she said.