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Amid Violent Episodes, Virginia Moves To Crack Down on Stalkers

February 29, 1992

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ One woman told of her ex-husband following her to work, church and the grocery store. Another said a man stalked her daughter for six months - then killed her.

Such testimony convinced Virginia lawmakers to pass a bill cracking down on stalkers. And other states are doing the same.

″It was clear that there was a big gap in the law,″ said Ohio state Rep. Madeline Cain, a Democrat who introduced a bill to criminalize stalking in her state.

Among the more high-profile cases are those involving celebrities. Comedian David Letterman, actress Sharon Gless and actor Michael J. Fox all have been harassed by stalkers; actress Rebecca Schaeffer was shot to death in 1989 by a fan who hunted her down.

But many victims are ordinary women stalked by former boyfriends or husbands. In many cases, police tell them there is nothing they can do.

Among the women who testified before the Virginia lawmakers was hospital nurse Carol Strong.

She said her ex-husband, now in jail without bond awaiting trial on rape and other charges, terrorized her for 19 months before breaking into their house and raping her in front of two of their children.

She said he would go to their house up to a dozen times a day, tap on the windows and leave notes, and even trailed the family to Little League games, Sunday school and the grocery store. ″He would follow us aisle for aisle,″ she said.

Carrie Prickett testified that her daughter, killed in 1989, was stalked for six months. ″You can’t save her but you might save somebody else’s child,″ she said.

After hearing the testimony Wednesday, the Virgina General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the bill to make it a misdemeanor to stalk someone. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is considering signing the measure.

Under the proposed law, a person would be charged with a misdemeanor for repeatedly engaging in threatening conduct ″with the intent to cause emotional distress to another person by placing that person in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury.″ A third conviction within five years would result in a felony.

California passed the first anti-stalking law in 1990, and similar legislation is pending in Florida, Ohio and Maryland.

″This is a law that can save lives if it’s used correctly,″ said Ruth Micklem, director of Virginians Against Domestic Violence. ″It’s going to depend on enforcement of the law.″

Micklem cautioned that Virginia police rarely charge stalkers with trespassing under existing legislation and may be reluctant to enforce the new law. She also urged women to keep records and get witnesses.

But Scott Wallace, legislative director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, warned that the law could be unconstitutional.

″There’s a grave danger here of writing a law that’s overinclusive, that creates a criminal penalty for behavior that is merely obnoxious or for constitutionally-protected speech,″ he said.

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