Statutory rape charges dropped against former band teacher because of 1986 law

A former Orange County band teacher who was accused of statutory rape with a teen decades ago no longer faces statutory rape charges, the Wake County District Attorney said Friday.

Bill Pendergrass, 60, had been charged with six felony counts of statutory rape and taking indecent liberties with a child in 1986, according to Wake County court records.

But the North Carolina law for statutory rape of someone who is 15 years or younger wasn’t in effect in 1986, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told The News & Observer.

“The investigators overlooked the fact that that particular statute was not on the books in 1986 and only came into effect in the mid-90s,” Freeman said in a phone interview.

The law was enacted in 1995 and is applied to someone who is a minimum of six years older and has sex with a 15-year-old who is not their spouse.

Pendergrass allegedly had sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 27 years old between July 1986 and July 1987.

Pendergrass still faces three felony charges of taking indecent liberties with a child in 1986.

He was initially being held on a $1.6 million bond, but after the rape charge was dropped, it was reduced to $25,000, according to court records. He left jail Monday.

Freeman said that doesn’t necessarily mean Pendergrass won’t face additional charges.

“Investigators are working to ensure that the appropriate charges based on the law in 1986 are brought,” she said.

Pendergrass was the band director at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh and “was separated from his job” in May, The News & Observer previously reported.

He joined the Orange County school system in August, working at Gravelly Hill Middle School, but was placed on administrative leave the day he was charged.

The school system said Thursday he had resigned from his job.

Ravenscoft and Orange County schools both said they didn’t suspect any illegal activity when Pendergrass worked for them, The N&O reported.

There is no statute of limitations on felonies in North Carolina, and alleged sex crimes have been prosecuted more than 25 years later, according to a 2018 UNC School of Government blog post.

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Ashad Hajela reports on public safety for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He studied journalism at New York University.