Jordan Douglas will spend at least 25 years in prison because two Charlotte women fought back - first on West Fifth Street and later in a Mecklenburg County courtroom.
In July 2019, when Douglas dragged one of the women at gunpoint to a construction site west of uptown and began to rape her, the other refused to flee. Instead, she says, she overcame her own fear, rushed straight at the armed attacker and struck him across the head with a steel rod she'd found lying on the ground.
"She was crying. She was terrified. She was telling me to go. But I could see in her eyes that she didn't want me to do that," the woman told the Observer on Wednesday, part of an emotional account of the events that unfolded for her and her friend near Gateway Village almost three years ago.
"I believed if no one was around, he would have probably killed her. I could see in her face that she thought she was going to die. I knew I couldn't run."
Last week during Douglas' 10-day trial, the women faced down the residual horror of that night and identified him as their attacker.
The jury took it from there. Last Friday, they convicted the 23-year-old Charlotte man of multiple crimes of violence, from first-degree sex offense and first-degree kidnapping to attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon and assault with a deadly weapon.
Superior Court Judge Lisa Bell sentenced Douglas to 304 to 437 months in prison. Upon his release, Douglas must register as a sex offender for 30 years.
Defense attorney Christian Hoel of Charlotte did not respond to an Observer phone call Wednesday seeking comment.
The Observer typically does not identify victims of sexual assault. The names of the two women do appear in documents related to the Douglas case, including the trial transcript.
Bell singled out the women for their bravery - first, in surviving the attack, then, agreeing to testify.
The judge also said the manner in which the women fought back was a first for her judicial career.
"I don't think I've ever had a case where somebody's whacked the assailant on the head with rebar, but now I have," Bell told the woman, according to the trial transcript. "I just can't reiterate enough the courage that both of you have shown before and for coming here."
During a Wednesday phone interview with the Observer, the judge mentioned one comment she wishes she'd made to the woman who wielded the rebar:
"I wanted to tell her in court, 'You go, girl!'"
The horror in Gateway Village
What started as a holiday night out in uptown in 2019 for two friends quickly became a display of courage in the face of sudden violence and potential death.
On Friday July 4th, the women, who were dating at the time, had spent the evening dancing at a bar, visiting a food truck and enjoying the uptown fireworks. One was was 18 at the time, the other 28, according to the judge.
As Friday became Saturday, the pair walked west toward Gateway Village where the older woman's motorcycle had been parked. Along the route, they noticed they were being followed. A man they didn't know was calling out to them, trying to make conversation. The friends tried to elude him and asked him to leave them alone, the older woman said.
On West Fifth Street, the man later identified by police as Douglas came alongside them. He was carrying a gun.
First, he demanded the women's backpacks. He then knocked the 18-year-old to the ground, put her in a chokehold and placed his gun to her head, prosecutor said.
According to testimony, he next fired a shot at or near the 28-year-old woman. She did not run. Instead, she says, she followed Douglas from 10 to 15 yards away as he dragged her friend to a nearby construction site. There, with the gun still pointed to the younger woman's head, he began to sexually assault her.
The older woman said she had to struggle through the panic of "fight or flight." She chose fight, she says, and her mind cleared.
First, she inched closer. She says she then threw a block of wood at the attacker. Except, her aim wasn't good and the block struck her friend. But the projectile served its purpose as a diversion, she says, and she kept moving in. It was too late to back off.
She says she saw her friend reaching for the attacker's gun just as she came upon the rebar. She says she picked it up and swung it at the attacker's head as hard as she could.
"I remember looking into his eyes and seeing kind of like this level of fear," she recalled. "Then he fell down a hill."
The women ran east. Police were already circling the scene. Someone had heard the gunshot and the screams and had called 911.
Meanwhile, Douglas' arrest photo, which was taken that afternoon when he entered the Mecklenburg County jail, shows an angry gash on his right forehead.
Justice delayed by pandemic
Due in part to the pandemic, Douglas' case took 2 1/2 years to reach a courtroom, making it the first Superior Court trial in Mecklenburg County for 2022.
Both women testified. After the verdict, prosecutors said their accounts were "crucial and secured a conviction that protects the entire community."
The woman who had hit Douglas with the rebar, said being in the courtroom so long after the Fourth of July violence uncorked painful memories and unsettled emotions.
"But I needed the closure," she said. "I know that I didn't have that closure until Friday, and that verdict and sentencing came down."
She said her view of Douglas from the witness chair was the first time she'd seen him since Gateway Village. Asked if she had ever wavered on testifying against him, she answered with an emphatic no.
"It wasn't an option," she said. "I needed to make sure this did not happen to anyone else ever again."