All News & Blogs
A vendor's cart in Central Park displays directions to Strawberry Fields, its memorial to John Lennon, and to the songwriter's former residence in the Dakota apartments.
View More Images from this story
Visit the Photo Place
BY STEVE SZKOTAK
The man accused of raping an elderly woman in New York's Central Park frightened people for years in his tiny West Virginia hometown, where a neighbor says residents were so terrified after his release from prison last year they bought guns to protect themselves.
Authorities say David Albert Mitchell has been in and out of prison since he was 18. He was arrested twice on charges of raping elderly women, suspected but not charged in the slaying of one female neighbor and acquitted of killing another. Court records and prosecutors describe a man who drank heavily, was quick to threaten violence, never earned a high school diploma and may have been mentally ill.
Mitchell, 42, served eight years in a Virginia prison for the 2003 abduction of an ex-girlfriend and got out last year. Records show he violated probation three times, then fled to New York, where police say he attacked a 73-year-old birdwatcher in Central Park near a memorial to peace-loving John Lennon.
Back in Jenkinjones, a hard-luck coalfields town of fewer than 300, a man well-acquainted with both Mitchell and some of his alleged victims said it's best if New York locks him up for good. He said when word spread of Mitchell's release from prison last year, people started buying guns to protect themselves because he had terrorized people in the town and preyed on elderly women for years.
"They ain't gonna trust him down here again. They're gonna end up killing him," said Wayne Mitchell, no relation. "To be honest with you, he needs to be put away for life."
Jenkinjones is an isolated town in McDowell County, part of the struggling West Virginia coalfields. More than a third of the population lives in poverty, with median incomes less than half the U.S. average.
It's also just miles from the Virginia line, a location that helped Mitchell build a criminal resume in both states.
His first felony arrest was in 1989, when he was accused of killing 86-year-old Annie Parks of Jenkinjones.
Although Mitchell was acquitted in that case, he was arrested again a few months later, charged with raping another Jenkinjones resident who was in her 70s and stealing her gun.
Prosecutors dropped the sexual assault charge in that case under a plea bargain.