Jurors hear opening statements in federal cyberstalking case

AP News
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Posted: Jun 11, 2015 7:06 PM

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Relatives of a man who killed his former daughter-in-law at a Delaware courthouse conspired with the gunman for years to stalk and torment the victim before she was killed, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

Former optometrist David Matusiewicz; his mother, Lenore Matusiewicz; and his sister, Amy Gonzalez, are charged with conspiracy and cyberstalking of David's ex-wife, Christine Belford.

Belford was fatally shot by David's father, Thomas Matusiewicz, as she arrived at the courthouse for a child support hearing in February 2013. Thomas Matusiewicz also killed a friend of Belford's and exchanged gunfire with police before killing himself.

Prosecutors say David Matusiewicz conspired with his parents and sister over several years, targeting Belford in Internet postings, emails, letters and online videos with the intent to injure, harass, intimidate and kill her. Under a rarely used federal statute, the defendants could face life in prison if convicted of stalking that resulted in Belford's death.

Thomas Matusiewicz's relatives have denied knowing that he intended to kill Belford.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Weede said in the prosecution's opening statement Thursday that the primary goal of the stalking campaign was to reunite David with the three daughters he had with Belford. David Matusiewicz and Belford waged a bitter custody battle for the children that culminated in the termination of his parental rights after he and his mother kidnapped the children in 2007 and took them to Central America.

"This case is about power," said Weede, who said a core element of the family's stalking campaign was an unsubstantiated accusation that Belford had been sexually abusing the couple's oldest daughter, who is expected to testify for the prosecution.

"She going to tell you that her mother never abused her sexually or physically," Weede told jurors.

Dina Chavar, a defense attorney for David Matusiewicz, told jurors the case is not about alleged sexual abuse, which Chavar said was never investigated by state officials. Instead, Chavar said, jurors must focus on the intent of the Matusiewicz family's communications regarding David's custody battle with Belford, their attempts to draw attention and legal support to their cause, and David's desire to maintain a relationship with his children.

"This case is about context," Chavar said, adding that jurors will hear not just about the Matusiewicz family, but about Belford as well.

"You're going to hear a lot about her behavior. ... I think what you're going to find is that her behavior was erratic," Chavar said.

Jeremy Gonzalez Ibrahim, defense attorney for Amy Gonzalez, echoed Chavar in telling jurors to focus on the intent of the defendants, describing his client as a caring and compassionate mother and nurse who was looking out for the best interests of her three nieces.

Ibrahim also implied that the prosecution's suggestion that the Matusiewicz family knew Thomas Matusiewicz planned to kill Belford at the courthouse was implausible. Given that Thomas Matusiewicz, a former police officer, knew where Belford lived and had previously visited her house, there would be no reason for him to kill her in the crowded lobby of a courthouse protected by armed guards and security cameras "unless there was something wrong with him."

Testimony in the trial was to begin Friday.