Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Convicted Stalker Manages to Wiggle Out of Serving Jail Sentence
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.