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North Carolina woman held captive in man's house for 10 days escaped with help of family, friends: prosecutors

A North Carolina man will spend the next two decades in prison after he drugged and sexually assaulted a woman in his Asheville apartment over a 10-day period.

A North Carolina man will spend 20 years in prison after he drugged and sexually assaulted a woman in his Asheville apartment for 10 days in February 2020, according to local prosecutors.

A Buncombe County jury on Nov. 13 found William Todd Murell, 58, guilty of first-degree rape and felony assault inflicting serious bodily injury, but acquitted him of a kidnapping charge. He still faces rape and kidnapping charges in a separate March 2020 case.

"I thank prosecutors Katie Kurdys and Stormy Ellis for their passionate advocacy for justice in this complicated and lengthy jury trial," District Attorney Todd Williams said in a statement last month. "Their trauma-informed support of the victim who courageously took the stand despite her physical limitations provided the jury with the compelling evidence to put Murell in prison for over two decades."

The victim testified that Murell gave her alcohol and Trazodone, dragged by her arms and legs, kicked her in the head and raped her over a 10-day period between Feb. 1, 2020 and Feb. 11, 2020. Staff at Pardee Hospital presented evidence of her injuries, including a sexual assault kit, in court last month.

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Photographs presented in court showed evidence of the victim's traumatic brain injury, bruises on her arms and legs, and cigarette burns on her back and chest, among other wounds. A toxicology report showed the victim had barbiturates and benzodiazepines in her system when she was hospitalized. 

Murell spoke at his sentencing and said he was "shocked" at the jury's verdict but accepted his fate. He did not apologize or express remorse, according to the district attorney's office.

The victim, a mother of three and former police officer from Florida, met Murell at a substance abuse group because she was struggling with alcoholism, according to local news outlet WLOS.

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They drove to meetings together because they lived close by. On one such occasion, the victim drove with Murell back to his house to watch a movie. The next thing she remembers was being abused. The victim testified that Murell hid her phone, fed her drugs and alcohol and beat her in a "punishment corner" inside his house, WLOS reported.

After receiving 911 calls from multiple people, including Murell himself, over the 10-day abuse period, Asheville police conducted several welfare checks at Murell's residence, but because the victim did not request help or say she wanted to leave, the welfare checks did not result in any rescues. 

The victim testified that she was afraid Murell would beat her more if she told authorities she needed help. When the victim's former wife showed up at Murell's apartment on Nov. 5 to find out what was going on, the victim said she told her to leave.

"I told her to get out because he'd kill her," the victim told the jury, according to WLOS. "I knew something bad was going to transpire if she stayed. I just wanted to get her out."

The victim's wife then called 911, and police conducted a welfare check but could not force the victim from Murell's residence. 

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On Feb. 6, police conducted another welfare check after Murell took the victim to a restaurant, and concerned diners called 911.

On Feb. 8, police conducted a third welfare check after Murrell himself called 911 to report that the woman was unconscious. When the Ashville Fire Department arrived, the victim did not ask for help or say she wanted to leave, WLOS reported.

The defense team pointed to this 911 call as part of their argument that Murell was not guilty of kidnapping the woman.

"This is more about divorce and regret," defense attorney Al Messer said in closing arguments, WLOS reported. "This is the story of [the victim] and Todd. This is the story of [the victim's spouse] seeing her wife be with another man. That's why she called 911."

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Prosecutors noted, however, that Murell did not take the victim to receive treatment despite calling 911 for help.

The victim eventually found her phone and contacted friends to help her escape the house on Feb. 11. Friends and family helped her leave Murell's residence, and she received treatment at Pardee Hospital, where staff discovered that she had a lethal blood alcohol level of 0.335%, a severe brain injury and traces of barbiturates and benzodiazepines in her system. She also had cuts, burns and bruises throughout her body.

Murell's attorneys filed an appeal on Nov. 21.

The 58-year-old man faces kidnapping and rape charges in a separate case from March 4, 2020, when he allegedly kidnapped another woman and sexually assaulted her in his home. She was able to escape on foot two days later after Murell fell asleep, took a bus to a local service station and called 911, as WLOS reported.

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