Were relatives culpable in shooter's deadly courthouse attack? Jury to decide in cyberstalking trial
A federal jury began deliberating Wednesday in an unusual cyberstalking case against three relatives of a man who committed a fatal courthouse shooting.
Prosecutors say the wife, son and daughter of Thomas Matusiewicz played a role in his deadly Feb. 11, 2013 attack on Christine Belford and Laura Mulford, by participating in harassing conduct that resulted in Belford’s death. Thomas Matusiewicz fatally shot both women and then committed suicide at the New Castle County, Delaware, courthouse. The attack took place just before a hearing in a hard-fought child-support case involving his son, defendant David Matusiewicz. Belford, who was divorced from David Matusiewicz in 2006, had brought her friend Mulford along with her to the hearing.
If convicted, the three could get as much as life in prison, which the U.S. Department of Justice believes would be the most severe sentence ever imposed in such a federal cyberstalking case, according to the Associated Press and the News Journal. Federal law allows for such a sentence if interstate stalking or cyberstalking results in death, according to the AP.
However, lawyers for David Matusiewicz, his mother Lenore Matusiewicz and sister Amy Gonzalez say the government hasn’t proven its case and deny that their clients ever intended to harm Belford or knew of Thomas Matusiewicz’s apparent plan to commit the courthouse shooting.
Motivated by a claimed desire to protect the daughters of David Matusiewicz and Belford, the family monitored her whereabouts and repeatedly accused her of abuse in Internet posts, emails, phone calls and letters. David Matusiewicz and his mother even abducted the girls and took them to Central America for 18 months around 2007. The mother and son’s resulting convictions in a child-kidnapping case were brought up in the cyberstalking trial.
David Matusiewicz lost his parental rights after that, but even so, the family did not give up its efforts to regain custody, prosecutors said. Prosecutors pointed to a weapon-laden vehicle in which David Matusiewicz and his parents drove to the Delaware court hearing from their home in Texas as one reason why the family should have known what Thomas Matusiewicz was up to.
Defense attorney Kenneth C. Edelin Jr. told the jury it is “utterly ridiculous” to think that the family would try to get the girls back by encouraging Thomas Matusiewicz to shoot Belford in a crowded courthouse filled with security cameras. He represents Lenore Matusiewicz. The AP and News Journal articles recount his comments.
Calling the conduct of Thomas Matusiewicz “horrendous,” Edelin said that he had no history of violence, and that the family had no idea what he planned to do. Hence, Edelin said, convicting the cyberstalking defendants based on the shooter’s conduct would be a miscarriage of justice.
Following the 2007 kidnapping, authorities “have been on a mission to get him,” said Edelin as he pointed to David Matusiewicz, “and they missed the obvious—that Tom did it himself.”
Prosecutor Ed McAndrew told the jury that they don’t need to find that the family intended to kill or physically injure Belford. Simply intending to harass her would be sufficient.
“Any of those will do,” he said.
ABAJournal.com: “Charged under federal cyberstalking law, relatives of courthouse shooter call case unconstitutional”
ABAJournal.com: “Federal cyberstalking trial blames courthouse shooter’s widow, son and daughter for slaying of woman”
News Journal: “Christine Belford was a fit mother, psychologist says”
ABAJournal.com: “Courthouse shooter had handwritten death warrant for lawyer who wasn’t there, authorities say”
ABAJournal.com: “Courthouse shooter had prior run-ins with lawyers over family dispute”