Lawyers wrapping up Delaware federal cyberstalking trial

WILMINGTON— The widow and children of a man who killed his ex-daughter-in-law at a Delaware courthouse conspired with him and one another to wage a campaign of power, control and fear against the woman, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday in the federal conspiracy and cyberstalking case against the family.

Even as she lay dying in the courthouse lobby in February 2013, Christine Belford felt, for the final time, the fear that had gripped her through years of court-related battles with her ex-husband, David Matusiewicz, and his family, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie McCall told jurors.

“The person they hated most was killed in the place they hated most,” he said.

Former optometrist David Matusiewicz; his mother, Lenore; and his sister, Amy Gonzalez, are being tried on charges related to Belford’s death. If convicted, they could face life in prison, a punishment Justice Department officials believe would be unprecedented for cyberstalking resulting in death.

david

David Matusiewicz

Belford and a friend were fatally shot by David’s father, Thomas Matusiewicz, as they arrived for a child support hearing. 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. Matusiewicz went to prison and later lost his parental rights after he and his mother kidnapped the children, purportedly because of concerns about their safety, and took them to Central America in 2007.

“This case is about the escalation of conduct to remove Christine Belford from those children,” McCall said.

But defense attorney Edson Bostic told jurors that prosecutors have not proven any ill will or bad intent on the part of David Matusiewicz, or that he or other family members had any knowledge that Thomas Matusiewicz intended to kill Belford.

“Whatever Tom had in mind, this was his secret plan. … Whatever his plan was, he didn’t share it with anybody,” Bostic said.

But McCall argued that Belford’s death was “reasonably foreseeable” or a “natural consequence” of the family’s stalking campaign against Belford.

Prosecutors allege that David Matusiewicz conspired with his parents and sister over several years to spy on, torment and stalk his ex-wife with the intent to injure, harass, intimidate and kill her, repeatedly accusing Belford in derogatory email communications, letters 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.

Bostic, however, pointed out that both Lenore Matusiewicz and Amy Gonzalez passed lie detector tests, upon which David Matusiewicz relied, regarding the alleged sex abuse. He noted that prosecutors have attacked the credibility of those tests, even while relying heavily on the testimony of an FBI agent who had to pass a lie detector test before being hired by the agency.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong when the government can itself rely on a polygraph, … and David Matusiewicz, Lenore Matusiewicz and Amy Gonzalez can’t do the same,” he said.

Defense attorneys have repeatedly emphasized that jurors must try to discern the intent of the defendants and the context in which they acted in determining whether they committed any crime.

“The human heart isn’t like a faucet. … You just can’t turn it off,” Bostic said, referring to David Matusiewicz’s continued interest in his children, even after he lost his parental rights.

Bostic suggested that state officials failed to investigate the sex abuse claims and that authorities rushed to judgment in trying to link David Matusiewicz to the courthouse shootings because he was “persona non grata” after the 2007 kidnapping.

Attorneys were to finish closing arguments Wednesday, after which jurors will get the case following instructions from the judge.

Randall Chase writes for the Associated Press

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