Former Freeburg teacher who left teen for dead in Belleville park released from prison

Nearly 18 years ago, a former Freeburg High School teacher nearly strangled a then-17-year-old girl with a belt and left her barely alive in the woods in a Belleville park where she was found about 30 hours later.

On Monday afternoon, he got out of state prison.

Samson “Sam” Shelton, 44, was released after serving about 17 years, or 85%, of his 20-year sentence for trying to kill Ashley Reeves, according to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office victim notification service.

Reeves’ brush with death and Shelton’s arrest have been featured in multiple nationally televised shows.

Shelton, who taught driver’s education and had a side job as a professional wrestler dubbed “The Teacher,” pleaded guilty in 2007 to the attempted murder of Reeves. He was admitted to the state prison system on June 21, 2007.

Shelton is scheduled to go off parole on April 22, 2027, according to state Department of Corrections records.

St. Clair County sheriff’s investigators found Reeves at about 2 a.m. April 29, 2006, in the woods at Citizens Park in Belleville after Shelton led them to her following a 13-hour interrogation, according to Belleville News-Democrat coverage of the crime.

Reeves had been reported missing and detectives later learned that Shelton, who was then 26, had been in a relationship with Reeves. Officials said the two first met when Reeves was in the seventh grade in Millstadt, the Associated Press has reported.

In a videotape interview with detectives, Shelton admitted that he used a belt in the attack on Reeves.

“I took the belt. I pulled,” he said in the video. “I pulled it on her neck.”

Investigators believe Shelton left her for dead in the woods and then he went line dancing at a country bar.

Reeves suffered brain trauma from the assault and had numerous insect bites that sent her into a high fever.

First-responders didn’t think Reeves would survive the night.

She was hospitalized and then had to go under rehabilitation where she had to learn how to walk and talk again.

But after her recovery, she was able to get a job and have children, according to an episode of “Crime Watch Daily with Chris Hansen” that aired in 2017.

Reeves was interviewed by Elizabeth Smart, herself a victim of a kidnapping crime in Utah, and was asked about her message of survival.

“Don’t give up,” Reeves said. “Don’t ever give up on yourself. There’s bigger things out there. I’ve gone through plenty of hardship and just keep fighting.”