A Los Angeles mother says her life has been upended in unimaginable ways after she was accused of a murder she didn’t commit.
Cherie Townsend had visited the mall in Rolling Hill Estates earlier this year — the same day 66-year-old retired nurse Susan Leeds was found stabbed to death in her car, NBC4 reported. Authorities said Leeds’ throat had been slashed, she’d been stabbed almost a dozen times and that several items were stolen from her car.
Police nabbed a homeless man who was spotted near the mall but later released him. It was Townsend who soon found herself in handcuffs after police allegedly found evidence linking her to the grisly crime.
“I was arrested for a murder I didn’t commit,” she said of the May 3 incident. “It’s important for my story to be out, because I was wrongly accused.”
According to the station, Townsend’s bond was set a $1 million and she was jailed for four days after being booked on murder charges. Detectives had tracked her down after finding her phone, which she unknowingly dropped, in the parking garage where Leeds was killed.
Townsend, a mother of two, recalled being pulled over by half a dozen squad cars.
“They all had their guns drawn, like I’m a monster,” she said. “They asked me to get out, put my hands up, and at this point, my life kinda flashed …”
Townsend confirmed being at the mall that day, saying she was shopping to kill time after dropping her daughter off at a friend’s house. She told police she knew nothing about the murder and didn’t recall seeing anything out of the ordinary as she left the mall’s parking garage.
Her car was captured by security cameras leaving the garage, but Townsend said she didn’t realize she’d left her phone behind until later.
“They had to blame somebody, and I was it,” she said. “Because like they explained to me in interrogation, they told me I didn’t have any business over there. I’m not rich enough to be there, or I didn’t have the right car, or I didn’t look the part.”
After days in jail, prosecutors examined the evidence and decided no murder charges could be filed, NBC4 reported. Townsend was later released. The damage had already been done, however, as the mother says her car was seized and the home of a friend she was visiting had been searched by police.
“Like I already knew, I’m innocent, what I said from day one,” she said.
Months have gone by but Townsend is still struggling to put the ordeal behind her. She’s described it as a “dark cloud over her head” that has made it hard to be out in public or spend time out with her college-age son and teenage daughter. The sight of a police car even sends her into a panic, she said.
“It’s fear, fear that I’m going to unjustly be taken from my children,” Townsend said.
In a statement, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department said Leeds’ case “has proved to be a very complex, active investigation,” adding that “with the lack of eyewitnesses, the physical and forensic evidence collected is continually being re-evaluated.”
Leeds’ family said they have full faith in the police investigation and hopes the person responsible for the heinous crime will soon be found.
“We know that the Sheriff’s Department is doing its best,” Leeds’ stepson Fred said on Thursday. “We believe in the job they are doing, and we believe they’re doing everything humanly possible.”
Watch more in the clip below.