Court TV Host: Discuss stalking with L.A. Deputy District
Attorney Rhonda Saunders, who has handled the stalking cases of Madonna, Steven
Spielberg, and Gwyneth Paltrow. And while we may hear more about such
celebrities being stalked, Saunders says that ordinary individuals are far more
vulnerable to stalkers. Saundersí case files are the subject of a new
documentary, Reasonable Fear, on The System. She was just on Catherine Crier
Live, and she will be here in just a moment. If youíd like to take a look at
another interview Ms. Saunders has done with Courttv.com, click here.
Court TV Host: Our guest, L.A. Deputy District Attorney Rhonda
Saunders, is here. Welcome, thanks for being our guest online today.
Court TV Host: Is there anything you didnít get a chance to say
on the air hat youíd like to begin with here, before we take questions.
Rhonda Saunders: Studies have shown that one out of every 12
women has been stalked at some point in their life, and one out of every 45 men
has been stalked. So we have a pretty large population -- and anyone can be a
stalker, and anyone can be a stalking victim.
Question from smartblonde: Is stalking a felony?
Rhonda Saunders: In California, stalking is a felony. But it
varies from state to state. In 1994, I went to Sacramento to change Californiaís
stalking Law so that even a first-time stalking, even if there isnít a
restraining order, can be prosecuted as a felony. Every state in this country
now has a stalking law. California was the first state to have a stalking law.
We are now seeing other countries, such as Britain, Japan, Canada, Sweden adopt
stalking laws -- they all have stalking laws that have been recently passed. So
stalking is not something that just happens in Los Angeles -- it happens all
over the world.
Question from peepers: Why is it that police can only act after
too much damage has been done?
Rhonda Saunders: Thatís not true. Before we had stalking laws,
that was he case. Victims were told, come back when he hurts you. The reason we
have stronger laws is to be able to intervene before someone winds up being
raped, murdered or assaulted.
Question from tantre: Hi, Rhonda, what was the worst stalking
case you covered?
Rhonda Saunders: That case in fact will be profiled tonight on
Reasonable Fear -- and it wasnít a celebrity case. It was a woman who cleans
houses fo a living and a housewife. She was abused for years by her husband. At
one point she did try to leave and got a restraining order, but the police
didnít take it seriously. So she went back to the abusive relationship and gave
up hope. Finally, she couldnít take the abuse anymore, because he was
threatening to kill her and also their two children. She got the courage to
leave, she got a restraining order. She went to her sisterís for help. He
followed her to her sisterís home, he threatened to kill her sister, who was
trying to protect her. He called the victim and told the victim that he was
across the street from where she was staying, and that she would never get away
from him She didnít go to the police, even though he was stalking her, because
she had given up hope with the system. The day that she went to get her divorce
papers, he followed her in a car that he had just gotten, so she wouldnít
recognize it. He had a hat with a wide brim that he pulled down over his face,
so she wouldnít see who was driving the car, and he followed her up this
mountain road, knowing that was the way she would go home every day. He crashed
his car into hers, hoping she would go over the side of the mountain. That
didnít happen, but she had to pull her car over to he side of the road because
it had been damaged. Some people driving by stopped to try to help her. He drove
up to where they were, came out of his car, holding a fake gun and very large
fishing knife. The people saw the gun, panicked, and left the scene. He came up
behind her and said a couple of words , and she turned around -- up until this
time, she didnít know it was him -- and he started slashing her with the knife,
almost severing her wrist, and gave her eight lethal wounds to the heart. He
then got into her car and managed to drive away to Laughlin, Nevada, where he
gambled all night. Her two young sons aged 9 and 14 were at home, waiting for
mom to get back. There was a knock on the door, and it was the police, and
thatís when they found out that their father had murdered their mother. The
victim knew that something would happen to her, so she made her sister swear to
take care of the children, should she die. Her older sister then took he two
boys into her house and the older boy a couple of days after the murder, ran
away, saying that he was going to kill himself, because he felt guilty that he
wasnít there to stop his father and save his mother. Luckily, they found him in
time. After trial, when he was convicted and awaiting sentencing, his oldest son
came to court. He knew his son was there, but he swaggered out of the lockup,
looked at his son, looked at the judge and said, ďSo what if Marie is dead, this
was a war. She deserved to die.Ē The young boy jumped up and tried to get to his
father, swinging his fist. The bailiff had to jump the young boy, but the
defendant looked at his own son, and said, ďYou want a piece of me? Come get
it.Ē And the young boy had to be dragged out of court, screaming. The judge,
very upset as we all were, yelled at the bailiff, ďDonít hurt himĒ meaning the
boy, and the father just
Question from CAptJackSparroW: They say that it usually requires
forced separation from the victim, what can the system provide to ensure that
this happens, if they arenít in jail?
Rhonda Saunders: Thatís always been a problem. We have restraining orders and to many stalkers, itís just a piece of paper. Itís not going to stop hem. However, if they do try to maintain contact with the victim they can be arrested again, a high bail can be set, we can request electronic monitoring. However, there is no sure solution to that problem. These stalkers never stop -- even while they are in jail or prison. They continue to write letters, they continue to make collect calls. They want the victim to know they are still there, and that they still have power over the victim. In California, we added language to our stalking law, adding that incarceration is not a defense to stalking. So that even if they are in jail, we can charge hem with a new stalking offense and keep them in jail even longer.
Qestion from AnnaLiz: Do all states have stalking laws?
Question from sorrow3lO: How can you find what the stalking laws
are in our state?
Rhonda Saunders: Yes. You can call the local police department
and ask them what the stalking laws are. You can use the Internet, and search
your state and use such terms as stalking, harassment, threats, and find out
what the laws are in each state. Every state puts their statutes on the
Question from smartblonde: How does one prove stalking?
Rhonda Saunders: Most states have taken their language from
California, so there are usually three elements: One is repeated following or
harassment -- all that means is that it happened more than once. Two, we have to
show a credible threat; however it does not have to be a direct threat, it can
be indirect and it can be implied by the stalkerís conduct. It can be written or
transmitted over the internet. Three, we need to show the stalker wants to
terrorize the victim -- not necessarily intending to carry out the threat -- but
they want the victim to believe that they will, thus terrorizing the victim. And
usually we do have to show that the victim is in reasonable fear, either for
themselves or for their family members. We tell victims to keep a diary. Every
time they receive a phone call, write it down. Every time they see the stalker,
write it down. Another good thing to do, if the stalker is outside the house, is
to look around to see if there is a neighbor, or someone delivering mail. Write
that personís name down, because they may be a potential witness. Never erase
any messages that a stalker leaves on an answering machine. Donít throw away
letters. Handle hem very carefully. If possible, put them in a plastic bag. All
of this is evidence, and in stalking cases, it usually occurs over a long period
of time. Numerous phone calls, people at work or neighbors see the stalker --
there are other things that might be evidence -- like a love note, weighed down
by a bullet-- we had that once. And especially with telephone calls, itís not
whatís said, but its the way that the stalker said it, that convinces the jury.
Question from CAptJackSparroW: Is there anything that separates
female stalkers from male stalkers? or do they all display the same symptoms?
Rhonda Saunders: They display the same symptoms -- rejection,
anger, ego. Although there are more male stalkers than female stalkers, the
female stalkers can be just as lethal and just as devious.
Question from CAptiackSparroW: Is it true that most stalkers are
difficult to rehabilitate if not impossible?
Question from CApt3ackSparroW: Have you ever come across a
stalker that has been successfully rehabilitated?
Rhonda Saunders: Itís almost impossible to rehabilitate a
stalker. Thereís no pill you can give them. All the mental health counseling in
the world doesnít seem to stop the obsessive behavior, and I can think of only
one case in all the cases where a stalker really wanted to do something with his
life other than be a stalker, and actually put himself into a program for over a
year, and from what I understand, he is functioning in society. That is one out
of a thousand.
Question from eowyn: Have you seen cases where a stalker will
stalk other family members when the intended target has moved or passed on?
Rhonda Saunders: Absolutely. Thatís why we added language in our
state, and many other states have followed, that the stalking can be against the
victim or the victimís immediate family, and itís very common, not in celebrity
cases, but in domestic violence cases, for the stalker to shift from the victim
to a relative like a mother, or husband or child. We saw that in the Poynton
case which I spoke of earlier, when the husband was calling the victim's sisters
and threatening to kill them for protecting the victim. there's another case
that involved two women, one stalking the other, in which the stalker went to
prison for ten years; when she got out, she couldnít find the victim, who was in
hiding, but she knew where the victimís mother was, who was in her eighties. She
then started to leave notes tacked to the victimís motherís door.
Question from janjo: I have been stalked by my ex-husband since
our divorce, however, he doesnít do anything illegal. Should I be concerned?
Rhonda Saunders: It depends what you mean by illegal. A series
of harassing phone calls could be illegal, if heís violating a protective order
-- thatís illegal. So it depends on his conduct, and it doesnít have to rise to
a stalking, it could be other crimes that heís committing -- harassing phone
calls, vandalism, simple assault, violating a restraining order. Those things
Question from WildCat: Whatís the difference between stalking
Rhonda Saunders: Harassment is part of stalking. Harassment is
repeatedly contacting, annoying, writing hundreds and hundreds of e-mails.
Harassment by itself is not necessarily stalking, but part of stalking has to be
Court TV Host: Any closing thoughts?
Rhonda Saunders: If you are being stalked, donít feel that it is
anything that you have done, Donít blame yourself. Seek out help from the police
as soon as possible.
Court TV Host: Thank you very much for being our guest today.
Rhonda Saunders: Youíre welcome.