Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween & Sex Offenders don't mix

Florida Department of Corrections probation officers will be out in force on Halloween, making sure sex offenders are not participating in Halloween activities involving children. Through surprise home visits and increased surveillance, probation officers are working closely with local law enforcement agencies statewide to keep Halloween safe for children. Probation Officers will instruct sex offenders currently on supervision who are restricted from having unsupervised contact with minors to comply with the following restrictions on Halloween:

* Do not give out candy or other treats.
* Turn off porch lights, close blinds.
* No outside decorations to attract children.
* Do not answer the door to trick or treaters.
* Do not dress in costume or masks.
* Do not attend Halloween parties where children will be present.

Parents are encouraged to accompany children when trick-or-treating, to carry a cell phone and to instruct them to avoid darkened houses and hotels/motels. Parents are encouraged to visit FDLE’s website at: to search for sexual offenders and predators in your area and sign up for alerts that notify you when a new registered predator or offender moves into your neighborhood.

Remember, the sex offenders listed on this website may not be the only sex offenders in an area. There are currently more than 9,000 sex offenders on state supervision in Florida. By working together, parents, law enforcement, and the Florida Department of Corrections can help you and your children have a safe Halloween.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Price of Pretrial Freedom

I attended a Motion to Remove GPS Monitoring Device in Judge F. Rand Wallis' courtroom Friday. The defendant, Charlie Anthony Jackson, has a degree from FSU and works in a high paying MIS job that requires him to travel often. He is now living at a hotel in Jacksonville (previously having commuted to his job from Orlando), and claimed that the GPS monitoring device provided by Court Programs has malfunctioned in the past, once causing him to have to return to Orlando from a job in Arkansas to be replaced. In addition to claiming financial hardship (having to pay $84/week for the privilege of not being incarcerated while awaiting trial), Mr. Jackson expressed concern that the monitoring company could call him at an inopportune time, for example while he is conducting a training session or in an important meeting, that might cause him a hardship (though I guess embarrassment is more the issue).

I suppose that Mr. Jackson believes that the judge should try to minimize any potential for awkward situations he's made to suffer while awaiting trial.

The defendant's wife, the victim in this case, was assaulted so severely in August that she literally thought her eye had come out of its socket when blood squirted from it during the attack. She has two facial scars and suffered facial fractures.  She testified that this was the fourth physical assault by her husband during their nine year marriage.  She obtained a 3-yr injunction immediately after the offense and the defendant was granted only supervised visitation with his child through Family Ties, which he has not yet exercised, even though it was ordered two months ago. She told Judge Wallis that knowing his movements are monitored is the only thing that has provided her with any peace of mind since the attack.

Jackson is charged with Aggravated Battery (Great Bodily Harm) and Domestic Battery by Strangulation. Defense Attorney Charles Willits did a good job of pleading his client's case, but Assistant State Attorneys Christopher Pasquale and Michelle Latham countered every argument with convincing testimony by a representative from Court Programs and the victim herself.  Additionally, Court Programs told the judge that if Mr. Jackson cannot risk being disturbed during an important meeting, they will refrain from contacting him during that pre-arranged time.

In the end, Judge Wallis denied the motion, finding that the defendant's concerns did not rise to the level of a hardship and that his issues had been alleviated by a newer device that does not have the same battery problems the older device had. 

CourtWatch commends Judge Wallis for maintaining this level of protection for the victim and accountability for the defendant while awaiting trial.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Domestic Violence is a choice

A new study shows what advocates and batterer accountability groups have been saying all along – domestic violence is a choice, not a loss of control. While batterers may claim that they "lost their temper," this is just another excuse in a long list of excuses for their violent behavior.

Below is the study that was just released.

I have also included two links to 2 Public Service Announcements that were done in Canada but never aired. They are controversial and I will warn you in advance, they use strong language and violence to make their point. But they truly illustrate how batterers choose to hurt only their partners and are usually well controlled in public. I would love to have this be mandatory viewing for everyone who deals with a batterer so they can understand the Jekyll/Hyde persona they can exhibit.

Just before Dan and I separated, he told me in a very calculated manner how to make sure I would never be believed if the police became involved. Here's what he said:
Step 1: Push the other person's "buttons" until they're ready to explode. If you're married or have lived with someone for very long, you know exactly what I mean by "buttons" - we all have them. But the more mature you are, the better able you are to control yourself when they get "pushed."
Step 2: Take that person to a public place and (verbally or emotionally) push them some more.
Step 3: Wait for them to get hysterical while you stay calm. The victim looks like an idiot and the abuser can say to the police "You see what I have to put up with?"
After he told me this, I must confess, I tried it out on him one time (just before we separated). Except all I did to "push" him was buy my daughter a box of Sno-Caps at Blockbuster when we rented some movies one night.

A $1.50 box of candy.

I knew when I was doing it he would yell at me. His unpredictability was very predictable at the end. After he yelled until he was red in the face (both Katelyn and Sarah were present), he stormed out of the kitchen. Katelyn (age 7) apologized to me, thinking his outburst was her fault because she had asked me to buy her the candy. I assured her that it was his fault, not hers. But I don't think she believed me.

What was fascinating to me, after conducting this little "experiment," was how stupid he looked while he was having his fit. It was as if I was merely an observer of the drama. What also fascinated me was how amused (and not afraid) I was at his behavior, probably because he had never struck me. I would not recommend you try this if your abuser is prone to battering.

In retrospect, it's obvious to me that Dan was 100% in control even when he acted like a lunatic at home. I had become conditioned to accomodate his demands in an attempt to keep the peace. Even when it meant withholding a treat from my child.

I'm very blessed that I also finally realized I had a choice too. I chose not to let my children grow up in an abusive home and I sought counsel from Harbor House. I'm blessed that my parents were willing and able to assist me financially. But I caution all survivors to keep tabs on their abuser if they choose to separate. Because that's when the potential for lethal behavior escalates.

That's when I lost Sarah.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Online dating sites can be a great way to meet people. But caution must be taken when you decide to go this route.  Eleven years ago, I met the man against whom I have an injunction online. And 7 years ago I met my wonderful husband in cyberspace. So I tell anyone who is considering this avenue to meet people to take precautions to be safe. More about that later....

I had occasion to monitor a Dating Violence injunction hearing on Wednesday in Judge Theotis Bronson's courtroom that emphasizes the need for caution in using these sites. I also found it difficult to suppress my laughter at the end of the hearing because the Respondent tied a noose around his own neck and even his attorney couldn't rescue him.

The parties met on in early September and went on four dates over the course of the month. Both individuals are well-educated and professional. The Respondant became angry that the Petitioner was not yet willing to have an exclusive relationship with him and he texted her 18 times in just a few hours once he knew she was going on a date with someone else. She described his behavior as erratic, fanatical and obsessive. After receiving the texts, she told him the relationship was over. She "unfriended" him in cyberspace later that night.

The morning after her date with someone else, he called her and asked if she had spoken with her best friend and her ex-husband yet. She had not. Within a few minutes her friend, who is a teacher at a local high school, contacted her because the Respondent had sent a defamatory email to the principal and the admistration of her school (addresses which he gleaned from the school's website). The email anonymously claimed that she (the friend) regularly smoked pot, which would be grounds for dismissal from her job. The judge, who is very low key and not given to emotional displays in the courtroom, was obviously appalled. After the friend testified, the judge questioned the Respondent extensively, who admitted to sending the email, about his motives for doing so. Ultimately, the Respondent said he regretted sending it.

I sensed that the judge was ready to sign the paperwork after the first email, but the Petitioner had mentioned at the beginning of the hearing that her ex-husband had received an email too. After establishing that her divorce had been fairly lengthy and the issue of child custody had been contentious, the judge asked to see that email. I was on the edge of my seat as I watched the judge's expression change to a look of incredulity. I wished I could see what he was looking at. I didn't have to wait for long.

The Respondent alleged in the email that the Petitioner had been having sexual relations with black men. Judge Bronson, an African-American, asked him what would be wrong with that? I could almost see the beads of perspiration break out on the Respondent's forehead as he fumbled for an answer. The attorney tried to salvage the situation as best he could, but when your ship is sinking quickly, a small bucket won't help much.

In his closing argument, the Respondent's attorney admitted his client had behaved foolishly and despicably by anonymously emailing unfounded and slanderous accusations designed to cause problems for the Petitioner and her best friend. He tried to convince the judge that an injunction was not needed because the Respondent has not contacted the Petitioner since the day of the emails (neglecting to mention that she had received a temporary injunction the following day).

Ultimately, the judge granted a one year injunction against the Respondent. I only wish he'd included an impulse control class.

Here are some tips for online dating that you might not have seen before:
  • Most websites have a section about being safe - read what they say!
  • Don't give out a home phone number (which can easily identify your address with a reverse lookup website). Communicate by cell phone or email until you feel comfortable meeting with the person.
  • Protect information about your employment location - this includes the name of your company, a work phone number, etc.
  • Use an email address on a free provider like yahoo or gmail that doesn't indicate your complete name. I didn't tell my now-husband my last name until after we met face-to-face and I learned that he had security clearances to go into nuclear sites (Uncle Sam saved me the step of doing a background check on him!)
  • Find out where your prospective date has lived so you can check those jurisdictions' Clerk of Court websites to see if they've been involved in any legal action (this can be tricky if you're checking out a woman who has had more than one last name in her lifetime). Make sure you have their full legal name and check variations. If you know their date of birth, that helps, especially when they have a fairly common name.
  • When you finally decide to meet someone, pick a place that offers valet parking. This helps that often awkward end-of-evening moment when having someone you don't really know walk you to your car can make you feel uncomfortable. A side benefit is that the valet attendants will usually get the lady's car first, thus giving her a slight head start out of the parking lot. It's worth paying the tip to do this.
  • If possible, make a note of the type of car your date drives so you can determine whether or not you're being followed.
Paranoid? A bit perhaps. But once you've been stalked, you need to be. Someone who is willing to wait for you to feel comfortable disclosing personal information is someone who is probably worth your attention. Someone who pressures you before you're ready is not.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Like Father, Like Son?

Yesterday afternoon CourtWatch monitored a bond motion for 19-year old Winter Garden resident Christopher Brannon, who had been arrested on 10/1/09 for Burglary with Assault or Battery (a felony punishable by life in prison) against his ex-girlfriend, who is 17-years old.  Assistant State Attorney Michelle Latham did a thorough job of demonstrating the defendant's propensity toward violent behavior directed at the victim.

In addition to testimony about his stalking behavior, State witnesses testified about three separate instances of alleged vandalism to her vehicle (dents, a broken window, slashed tires), tearing a dress she owned (not while she was wearing it), gaining access to the home without permission, punching holes into interior doors, and making suicide threats.  The victim has repeatedly not wanted to pursue a criminal case. That is, until this assault on October 1st wherein he shoved his way into her home while her mother was at work, grabbed her, shattered her cell phone, and smashed the back of her head into a table - all because he just wanted to talk to her and she repeatedly begged him to leave.

This young man scares me. He looks like such a nice young man. In fact, that's what all the witnesses for the defense testified. They talked about how polite and well-mannered he is when he visits their homes. I wonder if they've ever seen him spend time with his girlfriend. His actions at such a young age demonstrate textbook Power & Control Wheel behavior.

This young man's father scares me too. He took pride in mentioning his service to our country as a Marine, and is now employed as an intelligence analyst for a defense contractor (something I admire & greatly appreciate). His demeanor, however, screamed "power and control" to me. He minimized his son's previous brush with the law (a petit theft charge), repeatedly stated "I can assure you..." or "I can state unequivocally..." that he would stay on top of his son should Judge Alicia Latimore see fit to grant a bond. He stressed the "Marine traits" of honesty, dependability, trustworthiness, and respect for authority as traits that he had instilled in his son. He testified that his son assumes the role of "man of the house" when dad travels for his job. Even though the attorneys and the judge questioned him several times about how extensively he travels, a clear answer was never given (i.e., how many nights per month he was out of town). I also wonder, is Mom not capable of running the household when her husband is away? Why would a teenager be given this kind of authority when Mom is there?

And then Judge Latimore commented that perhaps Dad had impulse control issues because he had to be ejected from the courtroom last week for losing his temper at a previous hearing. I'm sorry I missed that hearing.

Ultimately, the judge granted a $15,000 bond (which was $10,000 more than defense counsel Michael Lafay requested), home confinement in his parents' home (except when working or as otherwise approved by the home confinement officer), ordered no contact with the victim or her family, stay more than 1 mile away from the victim's residence and 1/2 mile away from her high school, and to possess no weapons.

I am unclear as to why GPS tracking was not ordered.  If the judge is going to permit Mr. Brannon to go to work, he needs to be tracked. The victim's home is only 4 miles away from his. And her high school is only 1/2 mile away from where he lives.

Both Brannons frighten me.

But what frightens me most is that a young girl is at now at risk because her ex-boyfriend in out of jail without GPS tracking to monitor his movements.

Injustice in a Seminole County Courtroom

Several weeks ago I wrote about a dreadful custody case in Seminole County, "One Father's Victimization by the System" where a man was threatened with 90 days jail if he didn't produce thousands of dollars to pay his wife's legal fees.

Tragically, on October 8, Judge Alan Dickey ordered this dad into jail when he failed to produce $25,000. As of this moment, he is still incarcerated.

One courtwatcher who monitored the hearing felt that the judge seemed as though he had backed himself into a corner at the earlier hearing where he threatened to incarcerate him, and was unwilling/unable to believe that this man really had no funds at all. Several friends and business associates have been generous in lending him money to pay his attorney fees, but those sources are now tapped out.

Another courtwatcher submitted these comments about the hearing last week:
I have witnessed a few cases with Judge Dickey prior to this case. Previous cases with Judge Dickey were courteous in nature and he seemed to have taken his time and consideration into each of his rulings however, as this case came up and Judge Dickey began to familiarize himself with his past history/ruling of July 31, 2009, his demeanor appeared remarkably changed. Judge Dickey seemed quite agitated at the father's "reluctance" in satisfying past due monies on the ex wife's attorney's fees.

The father's attorney presented his current situation as being indigent and thus in the process of applying/approving for Social Security disabilities as well as citing the Bowen case with regards to the father's present contempt charge. At first, it appeared that Judge Dickey was actually reading the document however, my opinion changed as he quickly ruled against applying it to this case and therefore felt he gave no weight to the caselaw. I also feel strongly Judge Dickey may not have even considered reading the document had perhaps CourtWatch not been present.

Judge Dickey's behavior towards the father appeared irritated, angry and disrespectful at times coupled with the fact that Judge Dickey, in my opinion, further insulted the gentleman by stating in a smug, matter-of-fact manner that "his credibility was in question" based on past testimony and therefore he "would not believe anything he [the father] said."  The dislike from Judge Dickey towards this man was quite noticeable. It's as if he had some personal vendetta against him for unknown reasons to us. No patience or empathy for either the father or the children in working out a viable solution to an already dismal situation. Judge Dickey basically ruled a jail term of 90 days and re-evaluation thereafter as to his then presumed ability to "find the money" to satisfy past debt.

In my opinion, an injustice was done to both the father and his children by a prejudicial judge. My concern for this man is his willingness to continue the fight for justice and for the betterment of his two children, who appear to no longer have a voice of reason to speak for them in the courts. My hope is that his health will sustain through these hardships and for the safety of his children.
I understand that sometimes people feel as though once they've issued an ultimatum, they lose credibility and/or authority when they "back down" and change their position. Perhaps that's what Judge Dickey believes. But circumstances change as new facts come to light. Sometimes our impressions about people and situations need modification. The fact that a 55-year old man with a heart condition (having had 3 major attacks since 2004) would go to jail instead of pay attorney fees should tell the judge that he REALLY has no money.

CourtWatch hopes that this judge would be willing to admit his error, release this father, and hold a hearing where the wife is required to prove her allegations that he has the money she claims he has - something that has not yet happened.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said "An injustice against anyone is an injustice against all." We should all be concerned about this man's plight and what it tells us about "justice" in this Seminole County courtroom.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What About Diane Ward, Isleworth Murder Victim?

At Friday's bond hearing for her husband, James Robert "Bob" Ward of Isleworth, I wasn't altogether shocked that he was granted a bond by Judge Walter Komanski, even though Dr. Garavaglia, Orange County's medical examiner, testified that the powder burns on Mrs. Ward's face indicated the muzzle of the gun was approximately 6" to 12" away and that her eyes were open when she was shot in the face, just under the left eye, near the nose. It seems quite obvious that even if there had been a struggle over the pistol as the defense asserts, it's still highly unlikely, as Dr. G testified, that the bullet would have traveled the trajectory it did (virtually straight front to back).

I wasn't shocked because our country has a tendency to favor defendants who can afford to pay multiple high-priced attorneys when they get into trouble with the law. Remember OJ and his "dream team?" I was shocked at the ridiculously low bond amount that was set. Judge Komanski, at the end of the 2-hour hearing, decided that $100k was sufficient to ensure Mr. Ward's appearance at trial. That means he only had to post $10k. A hefty sum for most of us, but chicken feed for someone of his means. For someone who, even though his business was in bankruptcy, can afford to hire some high powered attorneys, the amount is a slap in Diane's face.

There was never any detailed testimony about his financial holdings, something that Assistant State Attorney Robin Wilkinson attempted to elicit, but was abruptly prevented from doing.

There was testimony that Mr. Ward had threatened suicide in a conversation with his brother-in-law. Perhaps a murder-suicide was planned, but he changed his mind. We don't know how much time elapsed between the gunshot, the placing of the gun in the nightstand, and the 911 call. Only one person knows what really happened in that bedroom.

There was testimony that none of the character witnesses, presumably the people who knew him best, were unaware of the extent of his financial woes. He did a good job of keeping that a secret.

The character witnesses that spoke on his behalf were all financially dependent upon the Mr. Ward. They were:
  • John Mitchell Thomas, friend in 1985 for a year, lost touch & renewed their friendship 3-4 years ago testified he saw the Bob & Diane together only 3-4 times and that they seemed to respect and care for each other. Thomas testified he'd been to the Ward home only one time. He admitted he did not know the status of their relationship. He worked for Ward for a couple of years.
  • Patricia Wilkinson, employed by Ward as a housekeeper / "Girl Friday" since they purchased the Isleworth home 2 1/2 years ago
  • Mallory Ward, daughter
  • Sara Ward, daughter
  • Paula Saare, Diane's sister, employed by Ward's company admitted that she asked the detective to rule Diane's death as an accident
It seems as though for someone who is 61 years old, there weren't any true, long time friends either available or willing to testify in his behalf. It struck me that he really does not have very many ties to the community - especially since the mansion he's lived in is being foreclosed upon.

The Sentinel reported on September 27th that Mr. Ward's first wife Janis made allegations of cruelty in their divorce 32 years ago. And an ex-girlfriend who dated Ward for about five years in the 1980s reported that he was a charming and generous man who wrestled with bouts of jealous rage and possessiveness — especially when he was drinking. These behaviors, along with the ability to keep secrets, are typical of someone who has abusive tendencies in their intimate partner relationships.

I also find it interesting that no mention of alcohol was made during the hearing, and yet it was reported in the Sentinel's October 9th coverage.

Also puzzling to me, and to many others, is the wholehearted support by Diane's sister and by the daughters for the man who is accused of murdering her. Ward's demeanor, as well, is baffling. His behavior in jail, his lack of apparent grief for his wife (as was demonstrated in a tragic accidental shooting of Nancy Dinsmore this weekend in Winter Springs), and his air of nonchalance at the entire process makes one think that perhaps he feels as though somehow he doesn't have to live by the same rules that the rest of us do.

I was stunned by Kirk Kirkconnell's lame attempt at humor when he realized in his closing argument what a foolish thing he said when discounting Ward's suicide threat. To paraphrase, he said, "Who among us hasn't threatened to kill themselves or their wife? We all have!" He then looked sheepishly over his shoulder and said "My wife's not here, is she?" Perhaps it was a Freudian slip. But it was offensive to every victim whose voice has been silenced by domestic violence. If you hear someone threaten to take a gun and blow their brains out, don't ignore the threat.

Finally, a $100k bail for someone with Ward's means is meaningless - even if his mansion is going into foreclosure. For most of us, a $100k bond would be a huge incentive to return to court. I would guess his attorneys' retainers exceeded that much already. At this point, he has no reason to flee. It certainly looks like things are going his way.

Has anybody bothered to make funeral arrangements for Diane yet? After all, she died 3 weeks ago. Seems to me that nobody really cares about her.

For more info, the Sentinel has a comprehensive list of articles and videos available online. The entire 2-hr bond hearing may be viewed at WFTV's site (it is broken up into 5 segments).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

DV Offender Employed by Lawson Lamar Gets Slap on the Wrist

It helps to work for the State Attorney when you commit a crime.

Defendant Michael Emmons (2009MM10127), employed by the Orange County Office of the State Attorney in the MIS Department, pled no contest today to one count of Interception of Wire/Oral Communications involving his wife (offense date 12/27/08). Adjudication was withheld and he is to serve 12 months probation.  The Seminole County State Attorney's Office prosecuted this case because of Mr. Emmons' job with Orange County.

Judge Leon Cheek would have gotten an A+ from CourtWatch if only he had adjudicated Mr. Emmons guilty. The judge asked several good questions of the prosecutor and took several minutes to review other witness statements in the State's file.  He emphasized to Mr. Emmons how foolish he was to jeopardize his job by breaking the law while at work and told the defendant he expects him to show more restraint.  He also told Mr. Emmons that he doubted the defendant's assertion that he didn't know what he did was illegal since the defendant was in a position to know that it was.  Judge Cheek gave an excellent definition of what "no contact" means as he ordered the defendant to have no contact with his wife (she obtained an injunction against him in Seminole in March), and in fact told him that he was not even allowed to speak about her in a derogatory fashion to his friends. Defense Counsel Daniel Brodersen requested "unsupervised probation" and the judge emphatically told him there's no such thing.  Finally, as the hearing concluded, Judge Cheek asked if the victim was present in order to make a statement. Most judges don't mention this unless an attorney alerts them to do so.

One distressing part of this story is that Mr. Emmons had a separate battery charge (12/31/08) against his wife that was referred to a pretrial diversion program by the Seminole prosecutor in May because he had no prior offenses.  The evidence against him included a one hour police interview tape in which he makes admissions to pushing her down, wrestling her, head butting the wall, and grabbing her. He was required to enroll in a Batterers' Intervention Program as part of that agreement.

The most distressing part of this story, which really indicated to me that Mr. Emmons doesn't take personal responsibility for his actions, was that he represented to Judge Cheek today that "she has made my life miserable - she punched herself in the eye - I didn't realize it was against the law to put my hands on her to intervene."

The judge didn't buy his story. I only wish Emmons had been adjudicated guilty today.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Defendant Takes Advantage of Opportunity to Re-Assault His Victim

Last week, defendant Kyle Duffee admitted to a violating his probation in a VOP hearing before Judge Michael Murphy in case 2008MM13931 (he originally pled to a 12/10/08 offense of violating an injunction). His probation officer subsequently filed an affadavit of violation because the defendant had failed to undergo substance abuse evaluation & treatment, enter & complete Batterers’ Intervention Program, and he tested positive for marijuana.

Judge Murphy sentenced the defendant to 365 days jail, with the promise that he would suspend all but 90 days if he returned the following week (i.e., today) to turn himself in.  That night, Mr. Duffee committed a domestic battery by strangulation assault (new case 2009CF14471) against his victim.

Mr. Duffee returned today, but he was already in a jail jumpsuit and chains. He is being held on no bond in the felony case. Certainly, at this point, Judge Murphy would give him 365 days in jail, wouldn't he? Wouldn't you?

Apparently, he chose to stick to his original sentence of 90 days, saying he had no legal authority to revoke his sentence. 

Judge Murphy is a man of his word. Usually I find that an admirable quality. In a situation like this however, it is anything but.

I think I understand why Mr. Duffee is smirking in his mugshot.

Convicted Stalker Manages to Wiggle Out of Serving Jail Sentence

At least for the moment.

I spent most of the day yesterday in Judge Kenneth Barlow's courtroom yesterday for State v. Gabriel Rhenals (2009MM231E).  Mr. Rhenals, age 23, was arrested April 30, 2009 for stalking his UCF professor after Judge Theotis Bronson had granted an injunction to her earlier that month.

The victim testified that Mr. Rhenals had been disruptive in class, behaved aggressively, followed her, hovered outside her classroom and office, slammed her door when he became enraged, said he was obsessed with her, and admitted to stalking her. He told her he was jealous when she spoke with anyone other than him.  He was ultimately removed from her class and UCF.

When he was served with the temporary injunction, a UCF police detective interviewed the defendant. He told the detective that, in his mind, he thought there was a sexual relationship with the victim.  The defendant admitted he knew it was inappropriate and said he felt she paid more attention to him than other students. He apparently did not feel it was inappropriate to violate the injunction and send the victim three emails, however.

As a result of Mr. Rhenals' behavior, the victim chose to quit her job and move out of state because she feared for her safety. It was a job she loved and worked hard to earn. In this day and age of jobs that are tough to find, I think that alone speaks volumes about the level of terror this woman was subjected to at the hands of her perpetrator. She has yet to find a comparable position in academia.

The defendant chose to testify in his own behalf, admitted his obsession, and was quickly convicted. The judge sentenced him to serve 30 days in jail, 1 year probation, 75 hours of community service, undergo psychiatric evaluation and counseling to address obsessive compulsive behaviors, and to have no contact with the victim.

Not a bad sentence for a first offense.

This morning there was an emergency hearing by defense counsel Alicia Peyton.  The victim and her family were not present. The defendant's parents were. Mr. Rhenals appealed his sentence, although the motion did not enumerate the grounds for appeal.  Judge Barlow granted bond in the amount of $5,000 with conditions of release that include a psychiatric evaluation with his current psychiatrist in Miami (who must present the Court with a report within 10 days), have no contact with the victim or anyone at UCF involved in the case, and return to Dade County where his parents live.

CourtWatch is concerned that Mr. Rhenals has managed to avoid being held accountable, at least at the present time. He goes home with mom & dad and goes back to the psychiatrist he's already seeing. It will likely be several months before this matter is resolved. By then, I wouldn't be surprised if he figures out some way to avoid doing his jail sentence.

As a parent, I understand the desire to take care of and help your child in any way you possibly can. We don't want to see our children suffer. But sometimes we get in the way of allowing "the world" to teach them lessons they need to know. I have no doubt that Mr. Rhenals' parents love him dearly. But helping him avoid accountability is not going to help him in the long run. He is 23 years old and needs to learn that "no" means no. "No contact" means no contact. Stalking someone is not acceptable behavior.

Appeals can take a long time to go through the process.  At times this case moved as slowly as molassas because the attorneys and judge were picking through the evidence with a fine-toothed comb in order to make absolutely certain all the bases were covered. In order to give Mr. Rhenals his due process, his motion for bond was granted (the judge even noted that his sentence would be served by the time the appeal was resolved) even though the motion did not clearly indicate what the grounds were. What about the victim's right to see her perpetrator held accountable?

Oh, I forgot. The law doesn't seem to give victims that right.

For more information about stalking and to see how much you know about it, check out this quiz.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Domestic Violence Related Fatalities in Our Community

Orange and Seminole Counties have seen a decline in the overall number of victim fatalities since 2007, but domestic violence related suicides have grown. Seminole's 7 fatalities have already surpassed last year's total of 4, while Orange shows a significant decline (25 deaths in 2008 vs. 12 deaths YTD 2009).

What has not declined, however, is the number of suicides (10 thus far) committed by perpetrators. I would contend that when an abuser has decided to take their own life, they become incredibly lethal to those near them. After all, once you've decided you have nothing to live for, it's a (relatively) easy leap to kill anyone you believe is the cause of your unhappiness.  Or to kill one's children in an effort to keep them away from the other parent (as was the case with my daughter, Sarah). Safety planning is a crucial component to protecting yourself and your children if you are a victim of domestic/dating violence. It is also important if you are attempting to assist a friend or loved one who is a victim.

There have been 19 victims of domestic violence and child abuse in Orange and Seminole this year. It is said that a picture (or maybe a chart) is worth a thousand words. In the interest of making my point, here is a link to the stats that CourtWatch has gathered since 2007.

To help commemorate the lives lost to domestic violence in our community, and to celebrate successes achieved, the Orange County Domestic Violence Task Force will be sponsoring a Walk to "Break the Silence" at Lake Eola on Saturday, October 10th.  Registration begins at 7:30am and a brief program will precede the walk which is scheduled to commence at 9:00am. T-Shirts will be available for sale at $15 each, but you may walk for free. To reserve your T-Shirt, contact Lacy Kemp at

For a comprehensive list of Orange County DV related events this October, please visit Harbor House's calendar online. 

Additionally, Safehouse of Seminole is sponsoring Purple Light Nights to increase awareness of domestic violence.