Sex assault victim devastated by attacker's new charges
Posted September 17, 2010 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2010 6:34 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — A woman who was sexually assaulted last year inside her Durham County home says she's heartbroken that she went along with a plea deal for her attacker, who is now accused of another assault.
Holly Smith was a successful teacher at Rogers-Herr Middle School and a mother of two living in her dream home when she was attacked in May 2009. Her husband was out of town with their daughter, and she was asleep in bed with their 2-year-old son when Alfred Douala Mangabell broke into the home.
"I just had a funny feeling. I woke up. He was sitting on my bed, staring at us," Smith said Thursday in an exclusive interview with WRAL News.
Mangabell was a family friend at the time, and Smith said she could tell that he had been drinking and asked him to leave.
"He pulled out a knife, held it to my chest, threatened to cut me," she said. "(He) threatened, if I didn't keep my son quiet, he would cut my son."
Smith says Mangabell then sexually assaulted her and took a picture.
"He was scrolling through some photos on his phone. I saw some very graphic pictures of other women as well," she said.
WRAL News usually doesn't identify sexual assault victims, but Smith said she wanted to tell her story with the hope that she could protect others.
"I'm not ashamed of what happened to me, and I'm not afraid," she said.
That wasn't true 16 months ago. After Mangabell left her house, Smith said, she didn't know what to do.
"You feel like your heart is going to come out of your ears, you are so scared," she said.
With the encouragement of her sister, she reported the incident to the Durham County Sheriff's Office. In February, she agreed with Durham County Assistant District Attorney Mitch Garrell's decision to offer Mangabell a plea deal in the case.
Mangabell, 29, of 1815 Vale St. in Durham, pleaded guilty to breaking and entering, false imprisonment, assault with a deadly weapon, sexual battery and attempting to secretly capture an image of another person. The deal required him to register as a sex offender but allowed him to go free – he spent nine months in jail awaiting trial – and serve 18 months on probation.
Garrell told Smith at the time that he worried that jurors wouldn't believe her story. He said recently that he thinks the plea deal was fair given the facts he would have been working with at trial, including Mangabell's lack of any criminal record at the time.
"I could not bear him just walking away," Smith said. "I knew, if I took a plea deal, I would be guaranteed something would happen."
Smith, her husband and their children then moved from North Carolina looking for some peace of mind. They have been unable to sell their former home, which is now in foreclosure.
"It would be a reminder every day of what happened to me if I had to stay in the house," she said.
Now, however, it is headlines that dredge up the unpleasant memories.
Mangabell, who also goes by the name Alfred Manga Bell, was charged last week in a Sept. 5 home invasion in Timberlake in which an intruder forced two women to perform sex acts on each other while he photographed them. Investigators with the Person County Sheriff's Office said the intruder threatened to post the pictures of the women online if they reported the incident to authorities.
Three days after his arrest, Mebane police charged Mangabell in a June residential burglary. Burlington police said they also are looking at his possible involvement in a case there.
"My heart dropped into my stomach. I felt sick," Smith said of her reaction to Mangabell's arrest.
Her husband said his emotions are as raw as when his wife was attacked.
"(I felt) rage, devastation. I was beside myself," Rob Smith said. "Get him out of our society. He's a monster."
Holly Smith said she feels guilty about not pushing to take her case to trial in hopes of a tougher sentence.
"I regret that now that other women have been hurt," she said, adding that she hopes sharing her story will send a message to the justice system.
"The next time, someone could be killed," she said.