Shalonda Poole Case Timeline
• July 22, 1990: Seven-year-old Shalonda Poole, missing almost 24 hours, was found dead in the woods behind Jones Elementary School. Her body was left bound and gagged.
• July 1990: Melvin Bennett confessed to killing her.
• March 18, 1991: A Guilford County grand jury indicted Bennett on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree statutory sexual offense.
• September 1991: DNA test showed that genetic material on Shalonda Poole’s body did not match Bennett’s DNA.
• May 1992: After almost two years, Bennett was released from jail, freed under a $75,000 unsecured bond. Murder and rape charges remained. Guilford public defender Wallace Harrelson said that detectives manipulated Bennett, whose IQ is less than 70, into confessing to the crime.
• September 1992: Bennett’s trial begins.
• Oct. 2, 1992: Bennett found not guilty in the death of Shalonda Poole, and the case was officially closed.
• October, 1997: Donald Preston Ferguson of Spartanburg, S.C., was released from prison. He was there after pleading guilty in South Carolina to sexually attacking a 10-year-old.
• Jan. 7, 2014: U.S. marshals arrested Ferguson in connection with Shalonda Poole’s death. He was transported to the Guilford County jail.
• April 2014: A Guilford County grand jury indicted Ferguson for the first-degree murder of Shalonda Poole.
• June 30, 2014: Ferguson was sent to Butner for a psychiatric evaluation.
• Dec. 1, 2014: Ferguson pleaded guilty in Guilford County Superior Court to first-degree murder and first-degree sex offense in the death of Shalonda Poole. In exchange, he was spared the death penalty.
Cause of death
Shalonda Poole's death was caused by stab wounds and manual strangulation, according to the N.C. Medical Examiner’s report. She had been stabbed 19 times, mostly at the neck.
Source: News & Record archive