WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Jurors began deliberating Wednesday in the federal conspiracy and cyberstalking case against the widow and children of a man who killed his ex-daughter-in-law at a Delaware courthouse in 2013.
Jurors in the month-long trial received the case Wednesday afternoon, following last closing arguments and instructions from the judge.
David Matusiewicz; his mother, Lenore; and his sister, Amy Gonzalez, are being tried on charges involving the death of David’s ex-wife, Christine Belford. If convicted, they could face life in prison, a punishment Justice Department officials believe would be unprecedented for cyberstalking resulting in death.
Belford and a friend were fatally shot by David’s father, Thomas Matusiewicz, as they arrived for a child support hearing in February 2013. Thomas Matusiewicz then exchanged gunfire with police before killing himself.
The child support hearing was part of a long and bitter court battle over the three daughters Belford had with David Matusiewicz. The former optometrist went to federal prison and later lost his parental rights after he and his mother kidnapped the children and took them to Central America in 2007, purportedly because of concerns about abuse and neglect by Belford.
“Her goal was and always has been to protect those babies,” Ken Edelin, the attorney for Lenore Matusiewicz, told jurors, pointing out what he suggested were several holes in the prosecution’s case.
“Your job is not to connect the dots where they have been deficient,” Edelin said, telling the panel it would be “a miscarriage of justice” to hold the defendants responsible for the shootings.
Edelin said it was “utterly ridiculous” to believe that the Matusiewicz family conspired to have Belford killed in a crowded courthouse lobby filled with police and security cameras to further their effort to reunite the children with David. Defense attorneys have suggested that David Matusiewicz was the target of a rush to judgment following the shootings because he was “persona non grata” after the 2007 parental kidnapping.
“They have been on a mission to get him,” Edelin said as he pointed at David Matusiewicz, “and they missed the obvious: that Tom did it himself.”
Prosecutors allege that David Matusiewicz conspired with his parents and sister over several years to spy on, torment and stalk his ex-wife, and that the family repeatedly and falsely accused Belford in emails, letters, phone calls and Internet postings of abusing and neglecting the couple’s daughters. A core element of the stalking campaign, according to prosecutors, was the allegation that Belford had sexually abused the couple’s oldest daughter — a claim that prosecutors say was deliberately false and which was refuted by the girl, now 13, in closed-door testimony.
Prosecutors have suggested that the sexual abuse allegation was concocted after the kidnapping as an excuse for the girls being abducted, but three witnesses testified that the Matusiewicz family expressed concerns about possible abuse as early as 2006, well before the kidnapping.
A key issue for jurors is whether members of the Matusiewicz family targeted Belford with criminal intent, or whether there was another reason for their conduct and statements regarding her.
Prosecutor Ed McAndrew told jurors there were several possible intentions that could lead to convictions in the case, including killing, injuring, or harassing Belford, and placing her under surveillance to further those goals or to simply cause her substantial emotional distress.
“Any of those will do,” he said.
All three defendants are charged with cyberstalking and with conspiracy to engage in interstate stalking and cyberstalking of Belford. Lenore Matusiewicz also is charged with two counts of interstate stalking based on trips to Delaware in 2011 and 2013, while David Matusiewicz faces a single count of interstate stalking for his trip to Delaware in February 2013.
Under federal law, a person convicted of interstate stalking or cyberstalking can be sentenced to life in prison if the death of the victim results. Officials with the Executive Office for United States Attorneys in Washington have said they are not aware of any previous cyberstalking case that resulted in a life sentence.
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