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BELLEVILLE - To a prosecutor, Ashley Reeves is nothing short of a miracle.

A little more than a year ago, the teenager was found in the thick woods of a city park where her assailant had left her for dead after wrapping a belt around her neck and tightening it. The injury left her unable to move. Her breathing was shallow, her eyes glassy. An investigator thought a coroner was in order.

But on Friday, after months of grueling rehab that steadied her walk remarkably, 18-year-old Reeves stood before reporters as shining proof that the girl who never gave up was getting on after watching the man who caused her ordeal get punished.

Samson Shelton, 27, offered no apologies to Reeves in pleading guilty to one count of attempted first-degree murder. As part of the deal he cut with prosecutors, the former teacher immediately was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

By law, he'll have to serve 85 percent of his sentence - about 17 years - before being eligible for parole.

That's fine with Reeves, who didn't care that Shelton, even when given the chance by a judge Friday, never said he was sorry, never showed remorse about what he did April 27 of last year.

"I'm glad it's over with,'' the 5-foot-5, 120-pound woman told reporters, her speech slightly stilted but remarkably better than the days and months after she was pulled from the woods and forced to learn how to talk again, at times then communicating with her mom through a sign language they devised.

With plans for college, she says, "I just want to continue with my life and not worry about it.''

"As you can tell, Ashley Reeves is a miracle,'' said Robert Haida, St. Clair County's state's attorney. "We've all been doing this for decades, and never has there been a case like this. We all hoped for the best, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing to actually have the best occur.''

Across the hallway, Shelton's mother found little to cheer. Susan Shelton said her son didn't owe anyone an apology, still insisting what happened with Reeves was an accident and that her son got the best deal he could because he could never get a fair trial after the media so "demonized'' her boy.

"I realize that he hurt her, he thought she was dead and he tried to cover it up,'' she said. "That's aggravated battery and obstruction of justice,'' charges carrying lighter sentences.

"Could we have received more if we forged ahead? Possibly. Possibly not,'' Haida said of the plea arrangement that has a "substantial'' outcome and spares Reeves the trauma of having to testify.

Put simply, Haida said, "Ashley needed to have some peace.''

School officials have said Shelton once was a teacher at a middle school Reeves attended.

In a videotaped statement, Shelton said he was driving with Reeves - then a Columbia High School junior - and trying to break off their relationship that fateful day when Reeves turned unruly. Shelton told authorities he and Reeves had sex once.

Shelton said he pulled over, unbuckled Reeves' seat belt and tried to eject her when he heard her neck pop and her body went limp. He said he drove to a local park and carried her into a wooded area "to make it look like she got strangled there.'' He said he tightened his belt around her neck, then heard a gurgle followed by nothing.

Authorities, accompanied by Shelton, found her 30 hours later.

At the time of his arrest, Shelton was a driver's education and physical education teacher at a Freeburg high school. He since has resigned.

Less than three weeks after his arrest, Shelton was freed on $800,000 bond and ordered confined under electronic monitoring to his mother's home near Smithton, where he apparently tried to kill himself last month with an overdose of prescription medicine.

Authorities say Shelton turned combative with sheriff's deputies and ambulance crewmates who tried to help him, then roughed up a nurse's aide hours later at a hospital. For that, prosecutors charged Shelton the next day with six felony battery counts and successfully asked - with Shelton's attorney's blessing - that Shelton be ordered to remain jailed until his trial.

On Friday, Shelton pleaded not guilty to the battery counts, which Haida said still will be prosecuted.


Key dates

Key dates in the case of Samson "Sam'' Shelton, accused of trying to kill Ashley Reeves, then 17, and leaving her for dead in a park in Belleville:

2006

April 27: Shelton claims he was trying to break off their relationship with Reeves as they traveled down a highway when Reeves became unruly. During a struggle, Shelton says, he heard Reeves' neck pop, and her body went limp. Shelton allegedly carried her to a Belleville park and left her in a heavily wooded area.

April 29: Investigators, accompanied by Shelton, find Reeves clinging to life. Shelton is charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder.

May 15: Shelton freed from jail, just hours after a judge reduced his bond to $800,000 over the objection of prosecutors. Shelton ordered to remain under house arrest, attached to electronic monitoring.

May 23: Reeves moved to a private rehab center from a St. Louis hospital where she'd been treated since being found in the park.

June 23: St. Clair County grand jury indicts Shelton on one of the two attempted-murder counts, also drops the aggravated kidnapping count. State's attorney Robert Haida says prosecutors would pursue an extended sentence on the attempted murder count, citing the case's "heinous and brutal" nature. If convicted, Shelton could face a 60-year prison sentence.

July 7: Shelton pleads not guilty.

2007

Feb. 23: St. Clair County Circuit Judge Milton Wharton agrees to a venue change for Shelton's trial.

May 8: Emergency responders dispatched to Shelton's mother's home near Smithton find Shelton apparently overdosed on prescription drugs. Authorities say he turned combative with sheriff's deputies and an ambulance crew, then later battered a nurse's aide at the hospital where he was kept overnight.

May 9: Shelton is transferred from the hospital to jail, then charged with six felony battery counts for his previous day's conduct with emergency responders and the nurse's aide. Shelton's bond on the new counts set at $200,000.

May 16: Wharton, the judge, orders Shelton to remain jailed pending his trial and undergo testing to assess his mental fitness for those proceedings.

June 15: Shelton pleads guilty to attempted first-degree murder and is sentenced to 20 years in prison.

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