“I have an obsession with the unattainable. I have to eliminate what I cannot ‘attain.” These words were penned by Robert John Bardo to his sister shortly before he murdered actress Rebecca Schaeffer.
As a result of this crime, and the physical attack on actress Theresa Saldana by drifter Arthur Jackson several years earlier, in 1990 the California legislature passed the first anti-stalking law (Penal Code Section 646.9) in the United States, effective Janaury 1, 1991. By 1992, stalking or harassment laws were enacted in 30 other states: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. As of 2005, all fifty states, and the District of Columbia now have stalking statutes. Additionally, other countries such as Canada, Japan, Great Britain, and Germany now have criminal stalking and harassment laws.
Although most people are familiar with stalking cases involving celebrities, the majority of stalking occurs in the context of domestic violence, workplace violence and other situations involving everyday people. The National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) has recently updated its published statistics showing that there are over 1,006,970 women and 370,990 men stalked annually in the United States. 59% of female murder victims and 30% of male victims were stalked by an intimate partner and 81% of those women stalked by a current or former intimate partner were also physically assaulted by that person.
However, it took the high profile stalking cases of celebrities Theresa Saldana and Rebecca Schaeffer to make the lawmakers take notice of the serious problem of stalking. In 1982, Arthur Jackson, while living in Scotland, saw Theresa Saldana in the movie "Deliverance". He was immediately attracted to her, but realized that they could never have a normal relationship, so he left Scotland and came to the United States specifically to kill her, get caught, receive the death penalty, and be with her forever in the afterlife. When he arrived in Los Angeles he hired a private agency to locate Saldana. The agency obtained the information through the California Department of Motor Vehicle records. On March 18, 1982, Jackson went to Saldana's home address and waited for her as she left the house and walked to her car. Jackson approached, took out his knife, and stabbed her 10 times. Fortunately, Jeff Fenn, a water deliveryman, saw what was happening and intervened thus saving Saldana's life.
Jackson was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to prison for 12 years. While in prison, Jackson sent Saldana numerous threatening letters. In 1988. he was charged with and convicted of threatening Saldana. Jackson was sentenced to an additional 7 years in prison. Just prior to his release from prison in early 1996, Jackson was extradited to Great Britain, where he was prosecuted for a murder that occurred more than 30 years ago. On January 29, 1997, Jackson pled guilty to manslaughter due to “diminished responsibility” and was sentenced to an indefinite commitment at a criminal psychiatric hospital. Jackson’s obsessive behavior was mirrored several years later by Robert Bardo.
The facts surrounding Robert Bardo’s murderous obsession with actress Rebecca Schaeffer have been documented in numerous police and newspaper reports, prosecutors’ files, and television profiles. Bardo first saw Rebecca Schaeffer on the television series My Sister Sam in 1986, while he was living in Tucson, Arizona. He was attracted to her youthful innocence and began writing fan letters to her. She sent him a handwritten card and autographed picture, which validated his delusion of their mutual attraction. Bardo took a bus to Los Angeles and attempted to contact Schaeffer on the set of her show, but was ejected from the lot by security guards. On his second trip to Los Angeles, he was again rebuffed by studio security guards. Bardo returned to Tucson, but immediately made plans to go to Los Angeles again. This time he carried a knife. In his diary Bardo wrote, “I don’t lose. Period.” Once again, he failed in his mission.
In 1988, Bardo went to see the movie Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, in which Schaeffer had a minor role. Bardo grew infuriated when, in one scene, Schaeffer was in bed with a male character. His fan letters took on a more threatening tone. In one letter he referred to Schaeffer as “Miss Nudity 2—Shoes”, and he later told his court-appointed psychiatrist, “If she was a whore, God was going to appoint me to punish her.” In a magazine, Bardo read about how Arthur Jackson had located Theresa Saldana’s home address and decided to obtain Schaeffer’s address in the same manner. The private detective agency that Bardo hired easily located Schaeffer’s address through the Department of Motor Vehicles. Subsequent to this case, the California legislature enacted Vehicle Code Section 1808.21, which provides that stalking and threat victims may now request confidentiality regarding their DMV records.
Bardo bought a gun and hollow point ammunition. He drew a diagram of a body and filled it with Xs and Os where he planned to shoot Schaeffer. Bardo packed the card and autographed picture that Schaeffer had sent him 2 years previously, and left for Los Angeles. When Bardo arrived in Los Angeles, he called his sister and told her that he was going to fulfill his mission to “stop Schaeffer from forsaking her innocent childlike image for that of an adult fornicating screen whore.” He went to Schaefferr’s apartment and rang the bell. Schaeffer answered the door. After a brief conversation in which Bardo proudly showed her the card and autographed picture that Schaeffer had sent to him, Schaeffer told him not to come to her front door anymore. He shook her hand and left. He went down the street, put a bullet into his gun, returned to her apartment building, and again rang the bell. When Schaeffer came to the door, she had what Bardo described as, “a cold look on her face.” Bardo grabbed the door as he reached for his gun. He brought out the gun, which was concealed in the small of his back, and shot Schaeffer once in the chest. In a video-recorded confession following his arrest, Bardo described that as she died, Schaeffer screamed at him, “Why, why?” Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered at the age of 21.
Ironically, California’s stalking law, as it existed in 1991, would not have protected either Schaeffer or Saldana, even if it had been in effect at the time of their attacks. Between 1991 and 1993, California’s stalking law required that a stalker make a “credible threat of death or great bodily injury” toward the victim, placing the victim in reasonable fear of the same. Neither Saldana nor Schaeffer was aware of the threats being made against her by her stalker. Even if they had known, the threats themselves were implied and not direct.
In 1994 major
revisions were made to California Penal
Code Section 646.9, enhancing the ability of law enforcement and
prosecutors to intervene and protect stalking victims at the earliest time,
before death or great bodily injury occurred. These changes were made in
direct response to an aggravated case in which stalking could not
be charged due to the inadequacy of the stalking law at that time.
As a direct result of the above case, California’s stalking law was amended in 1994. The new law specifies:
Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family, is guilty of the crime of stalking.
In California to convict a defendant of the crime of stalking, the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
Several recent California Court of Appeal cases have defined the wording of the stalking statute. In People v. Heilman (1994) the court defined the term “repeatedly” as meaning “on more than one occasion.” “Harassment” was defined in that case as “multiple acts, over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose.” “Harasses” is defined in Penal Code Section 646.9(e) as, “a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, torments or terrorizes the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose. This course of conduct must be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and must actually cause substantial emotional distress to such person.” In 2002, the term "substantial emotional distress" was eliminated from the statute in order to overturn a bizarre court case, People v Ewing, in which the court held that substantial emotional distress was not shown because the victim did not seek out mental health treatment or medication. Many victims do not have the resources to seek out counseling or obtain medication and also believe that they will be unjustly stigmatized as being the unbalanced person in the relationship if they undergo such therapy.
The requirement that the victim be placed in "reasonable fear for her safety or the safety of her immediate family" is now sufficient to establish the crime of stalking. At trial and preliminary hearing, I have established the element of substantial emotional distress through actions taken by a victim, such as hiring a bodyguard, informing people at work and neighbors about the threat, learning self-defense, changing his or her daily routine, adding additional security measures around the home and at work, avoiding public appearances, changing the phone number, or even relocating. I will ask the victim to recount for the jury what their daily routine was like prior to the stalking and what it is like now.
In People v. McClelland (1996) the court held that the victim’s state of mind and knowledge of the suspect’s prior history is relevant and admissible at trial. Intent to actually carry out the threat is not required and the specific intent element is satisfied if the suspect intended to place the victim in fear (People v. Carron, 1995). During a recent trial, the defense attorney argued to the jury that his client’s conduct was not egregious because the victim could not show them any scars. The obvious reply to that argument was, “(N)ot all scars are external.”
“Course of conduct” is defined in
Penal Code Section 646.9(f) as, "two or more
acts occurring over a period of time, however
short, evidencing a continuity of conduct.” "Continuity of conduct" simply
means that it is apparent to the victim that the stalker is not going to
cease his or her activities. For example, a stranger follows
the victim’s car for several miles on the freeway. When the victim leaves
the freeway, the suspect follows. The suspect then tries to run the victim
off the road with his car. The crime would be assault with a deadly weapon
(the car). If the suspect began to follow the victim on the freeway the next
day, turned off the freeway when the victim did and followed her down
different streets, but did not try to run her off the road that day, the
crime would be stalking (and assault with a deadly weapon from the previous
day). Stalking is a continuous crime, and there must be at least two or more
incidents before charges can be filed.
Penal Code Section 646.9(k) defines “immediate family” as “any spouse, parent, child, any person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree (grandparent, brother, sister), or any other person who regularly resides in the household, or who, within the prior six months, regularly resided in the household.” Stalkers often try to frighten and intimidate their victims by directing their threats toward third parties who are close to the victim because the stalker perceives these persons as standing between him or her and the victim. A comprehensive study (Meloy, 1996) has indicated that intervention by third parties to help or protect the victim might increase the risk of violence because it can confirm the paranoid fantasies of the stalker. The Robert Hoskins (Madonna case illustrates how Hoskins began directing his threats towards Madonna's bodyguard and assistant because he perceived that they were standing between him and his goal. Eventually, Hoskins acted on his threats when he attacked and tried to kill Basil Stephens, Madonna's bodyguard.
In the United States, all stalking statutes require at least two or more incidents to constitute the crime of stalking. In Illinois, the stalking statute requires a threat and relevant conduct in furtherance of the threat (People v. Bailey, 1995). Other states, including California, require a “continuity of purpose” (Culbreath v. State, 1995; Bouters v. State, 1995; Luplow v. State, 1995). In California, there must be two or more incidents of following or harassment.
In most states, the crime of stalking requires a credible threat, direct or implied, that places the victim in reasonable fear. In Long, v. The State’ of Texas (1996), Texas’ stalking law (Texas Penal Code Section 42.07(a)(7)) was found to be unconstitutionally vague on its face. One of the grounds upon which the court found vagueness was that the statute did not incorporate a reasonable person standard, so that it could clearly be understood whose sensitivities must be offended. In most states, the stalker must have the specific intent (criminal intent) to place the victim in reasonable fear, and the course of conduct must be willful, purposeful, intentional or knowing. In Long (supra, p. 293) the court found that the statute lacked an element of specific intent, which was necessary because,
"(I)n addition to creating greater specificity, these kinds of limiting elements help to avoid a vagueness problem by taking the First Amendment out of the picture. Conduct which alone would constitute protected activities may be actionable if it is part of a common plan that includes activity that is clearly unprotected. And, while conduct does not lose First Amendment protection merely because the actor intends to annoy the recipient, such conduct is much less likely to enjoy protection where the actor intends to “frighten” the recipient, and such conduct is unlikely to enjoy any protection where the actor intends to place the recipient in fear of death or bodily injury."
One study (Pathé & Mullen, 1997) has shown that stalking takes a heavy psychological toll on its victims and those around them. After her stalker had been convicted and sentenced to jail, a stalking victim once stated to me, “I have given up all hopes of ever having a safe life. For the rest of my life, I will be looking over my shoulder, expecting to see him there.” Incarceration is not a defense to stalking. Many stalkers, such as Arthur Jackson, while in jail or prison, will continue to send letters or make phone calls to their victims. New charges of stalking can be filed against them, and telephone and mail privileges can be restricted. The inmate could also lose “good—time/ work—time” credits toward an earlier release date.
In many states a first—time stalking crime can be prosecuted only as a misdemeanor, unless there are aggravating circumstances such as use of a weapon (Minnesota), violation of a restraining order (Oklahoma). conduct directed toward a victim under the age of 16 (Alaska), or commission of a prior stalking offense (New Hampshire). The New Hampshire statute (N.H. Rev.Stat.Ann .Section 633.3—a Supp. 1994) provides for misdemeanor warrantless arrests if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a stalking violation occurred within 6 hours preceding the arrest.
Under California’s current law, a first-time conviction can now be filed as a felony with a maximum prison term of up to three years, even if there is no restraining order in effect. If there is a restraining order or any other court order in effect during the period of stalking, the defendant can be sentenced to state prison up to four years. If the defendant is convicted of stalking and has suffered a prior felony conviction of stalking (PC 646.9), Criminal Threat (PC 422), Domestic Violence with Injury (PC 273.5) or violation of a Domestic Violence Court Order (PC 273.6), the prison term is a maximum of five years in state prison.
Other provisions, of Penal Code Section 646.9 provide that the sentencing court may issue a restraining order valid for up to 10 years, require that the stalker participate in counseling, and, in certain cases, order the stalker to register as a sex offender. After reviewing the evidence in each case, the court can also make •a recommendation to the California Department of Corrections that the stalker receive mental health treatment while incarcerated.
When a defendant is about to be released from jail or prison following a conviction for stalking or a felony offense involving domestic violence, the victim, family members of the victim, and witnesses to the offense, upon their request, have the right to be notified by the California Department of Corrections, county sheriff, or director of the local department of corrections, “not less than 15 days prior to the release” (Penal Code Section 646.92). The victim also has the right to request that the defendant be subject to certain terms of probation or parole. the conditions of probation or parole should include:
• The defendant shall not follow, surveil, harass, or have contact, directly, indirectly, or through third persons, by letter, fax, e-mail, phone, in person, or by any other means of communication with the following persons (victim, victim’s family, employer or employees, etc.)
• The defendant shall stay at least 500 yards away from the homes, workplaces, and schools of the above-named persons.
• The defendant shall be paroled to a location that is at least 35 miles away from the victim’s residence, school, or place of employment.
• The defendant shall make restitution to the victim, through the probation department or parole board, for any property damage or reasonable medical or mental health counseling bills incurred by the victim or the victim’s family as a result of the defendant’s conduct.
• The defendant shall enter and remain at (psychiatric, or drug/alcohol abuse) live-in facility until further order of the court.
• Upon his/her release from the above facility, the defendant will continue to attend outpatient treatment sessions and take all prescribed medication, until further court order.
• The defendant will agree to submit to periodic laboratory testing to determine if he/she is properly taking all prescribed medication and have those reports released to either the court or his/her probation or parole officer.
• The defendant shall not own, possess, or have in his/her custody any firearm or deadly or dangerous weapons.
Stalking is a chronic behavior, and can continue for many months or years, and incarceration or restraining orders may not diminish the stalker’s obsession (Meloy, 1996).
If the defendant violates the terms of probation or parole, he or she can be arrested and returned to prison for up to 1 year. This procedure can be repeated two more times, for a maximum of up to 3 additional years in prison.
Several other California statutes relate specifically to stalking, although they are not contained within Penal Code Section 646.9. Penal Code Sections 12021(a)(l) and (c)(l) provide that it is a crime for any person who is convicted of stalking (felony or misdemeanor) to possess or have custody or control of a firearm. Civil Code Section 1708.7 establishes the tort of stalking, whereby a victim can sue the stalker for general, special, and punitive damages. The Code of Civil Procedure Section 527 allows victims of harassment or threats to obtain a civil restraining order at no cost to them, and Code of Civil Procedure Section 527.8 permits a stalking victim’s employer to obtain a restraining order against someone who is stalking or harassing one of their employees.
On July 25, 1996, the United States Senate passed the Interstate Stalking Punishment and Prevention ct of 1996 (Title 18 USC Section 2261), making it a federal crime to cross state lines to injure or harass another person. It was signed by President Clinton two months later.
The victim must be in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to, that person or a member of their immediate family. The definition of “victim” includes any person who is stalked, not only domestic violence victims. Punishment includes up to 5 years in prison for stalking, up to 10 years in prison for stalking with a dangerous weapon or if serious bodily injury occurs, up to 20 years if permanent disfigurement or a life-threatening injury occurs, and life in prison if death results from the stalking. The act also makes a restraining order issued in one state enforceable in other states. The Act was signed into law on Septemer 23, 1996, as part of a comprehensive bill addressing violence against women.
In California the crime of making a terrorist threat, Penal Code Section 422, is often charged with or in lieu of stalking. It is defined as follows:
Any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it Out, which, on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family’s safety.
The crime of making a terrorist threat differs from stalking in that it is truly a crime of words, not conduct. However, the context and the circumstances under which the statement was uttered are important. For example, in a workplace situation, an employee facetiously may say to another person, “I’m going to kill you,” after the other person has bumped into him making him drop some files. The threat takes on a different meaning, of course, if it is said to a supervisor who has either just fired the worker or given him an unfavorable review.
The words themselves must be a direct, not implied, threat of death or great bodily injury. Section 422 does not require a “pattern of conduct.” One threat is sufficient. The threat must place the victim in reasonably sustained fear. in People v. Allen (1995) the court held that 15 minutes of fear is more than sufficient to constitute “sustained fear.”
Although the statute states that the threat must be “so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific,” case law has held that the language of the statute does not mean that the suspect must be standing in front of the victim with a weapon in his or her hand when he or she makes the threat. The crime does no require that the suspect had the intent to carry out the threat, only that the suspect intended the statement to be taken as a threat. In Re David L. (1991) was the first case to define the meaning of Penal Code Section 422. The Court held that there does not have to be a showing that the suspect has the immediate ability to carry out the threat, nor does the statute require a time or specific manner of execution. It only requires that the words used be of an immediately threatening nature and convey an immediate prospect of execution. In other words, was the victim frightened for his or her life when first made aware of the threat? The threat may be conveyed directly to the victim by the suspect, by letter, fax, e-mail, telephone, or through third parties.
A conditional threat (e.g., “Listen Chump! Resign or you’ll get your brains blown out”) can be a violation of Section 422 if its context and the surrounding circumstances reasonably convey to the victim that the threat is intended to be taken seriously by the victim. In People v. Stanfield (1995) the court held that “the use of the conditional word ‘if’ does not absolve a defendant from conviction under Penal Code Section 422.” Both the Stanfield and People v. Brooks (1994) cases strongly disapprove a prior case, People v. Brown (1994), which held that threats must be unconditional.
Terrorist threats are often made in celebrity cases. It is not uncommon for the suspect to make threats against the celebrity’s family, staff, agent, manager, or lawyer. These people are seen as obstacles who must be eliminated because they are standing between the stalker and the celebrity. Intervention by these third parties to help or protect the victim could increase the risk of violence toward themselves or the victim. This dynamic may change if the intervention is done by law enforcement or private professionals trained in the fields of stalking and threat assessment.
In 1995 case of People v. Hoskins illustrates how California’s stalking and terrorist threat laws work hand in hand to protect victims. In May 1995 Hoskins was arrested and charged with the following crimes:
In April 1995, Hoskins scaled a wall surrounding Madonna’s Los Angeles home and proceeded to the courtyard adjacent to the living quarters. Basil Stephens, Madonna’s bodyguard, observed him and scared Hoskins away. He returned the next day and was rebuffed by Caresse Henry, Madonna’s personal assistant, who was alone in the house. Hoskins, who was at the gated entrance to the house, grew enraged and threatened to kill both Madonna and Henry. He left a note for Madonna in her intercom call box at the gate. The note was written over a printed religious tract named “DEFILED” (Figure 1). The word “Madonna” is written above the word “defiled” and “Louise Ciccone” (Madonna’s middle and last names) is written under the title. The note reads, “I love you. Will you be my wife for keeps. Robert Dewey Hoskins.” The other side of that page reads “I’m very sorry. Meet me somewhair (sic). Love for keeps. Robert Dewey Hoskins.” On the side of that page, contained in a drawn circle were the words, “be mind (sic) and I’ll be yours.” Beneath this “love note,” the printed religious tract describes how sinners who fornicate outside marriage should be killed and those who do not go around properly clothed should be punished.
Henry, who knew that Hoskins had scaled the wall the night before and gained access to the property, telephoned Stephens who responded by returning to the house and confronting Hoskins. Hoskins threatened to kill the bodyguard if he did not give Madonna the note he had left. Hoskins told Stephens that if Madonna didn’t marry Hoskins that evening, he would “slice her throat from ear to ear.” Stephens chased Hoskins away, but as Hoskins walked down the road, he encountered Madonna pedaling up the road on her bicycle. Madonna testified that Hoskins stopped and gave her a look that “chilled” her, but then walked on, fortunately not recognizing her.
The threats were conveyed to Madonna by Stephens and Henry when she arrived at the house 3 minutes after Hoskins’ departure. The police were called but could not locate him. Madonna testified at trial that when she was shown Hoskins’ note, she “shivered.”
Hoskins returned to the house 7 weeks later and again scaled the wall to gain entry onto the property. When he was confronted by Stephens, Hoskins threatened to kill him. Hoskins lunged for the bodyguard’s holstered gun. A struggle ensued, and Stephens was able to regain control of the gun. Despite repeated commands to surrender, Hoskins again lunged and was shot twice in the abdomen with a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol by the bodyguard. Madonna testified at the trial that she was still having nightmares about Hoskins 8 months after these incidents occurred, a not unusual symptom of psychological trauma (DSM-IV). She described that in one of these nightmares, she was sitting in her office at home and Hoskins came up the stairs and confronted her. She was paralyzed with fright and asked him “How did you get into my house?” Hoskins replied, “I’ve been hiding downstairs for quite a while and now seems like the time to come upstairs” (Reporter’s Transcript on Appeal, Vol. 1, p. 63). She also testified that she had other nightmares in which Hoskins was in her house, trying to kill her, and chasing after her (Reporter’s Transcript on Appeal, Vol. 1, p. 57).
Madonna was reluctant to come to court and testify. The detective in this case had to surveil her home waiting for her to go jogging with her trainer. When she finally emerged from the house, the detective had to jog after her to personally serve her with a subpoena to be in court the next day. This was reported by the media, who had also staked out Madonna’s house, hoping something would happen. The next day, as reporters surged around the courthouse, Madonna failed to appear in court despite the subpoena. Her lawyer went to court and argued that Madonna was not needed to testify at trial as she was not a material witness. The press had a field day with that argument. The prosecution argued that we could not go forward with the case without her, as we had to establish that Hoskins’ actions subjectively put her in fear for her safety. We requested that a body attachment be issued for her arrest, to guarantee that she would be present at trial. A body attachment is similar to an arrest warrant, but it is issued for a witness who disobeys a court order (i.e., the subpoena) and fails to appear in court as ordered. The witness must then remain in custody until needed for trial, or guarantees an appearance by posting the equivalent of bail. The judge issued a body attachment in the amount of 5 million dollars, but stated that it would not be released until the day of the actual trial, when Madonna would have to appear or be taken into custody. These proceedings were reported in newspapers and on television programs across the United States.
The trial began 2 weeks after the body attachment incident. The potential jury panel was specifically questioned as to what they had already seen or heard about the case. Almost everyone on the panel was aware of the incident that had taken place 2 weeks previously. Many of them stated that they had heard or seen other media reports regarding the case itself.
The judge asked individual jurors their opinion about cameras in the courtroom, as the court had just held a highly contested hearing in which the media argued that they had a First Amendment right to have cameras record the Hoskins trial. Both the prosecution and the defense, joined by Madonna’s attorney, argued that the cameras should be kept outside the courtroom. The 0. J. Simpson criminal trial had been held 2 months previously in the same courthouse, and many blamed the media for the circus-like atmosphere surrounding that trial. When asked by the judge, no one in the Hoskins jury pool wanted cameras in the courtroom because they believed that it would be too intrusive. The cameras were banned.
Madonna appeared in court, as ordered, and was called as the People’s first witness. As most members of the jury were already aware that the prosecution had to force her to come to court, damage control was necessary. I asked Madonna on the stand how she felt about being in court with Hoskins across from her, She replied, “Sick to my stomach . . . I feel incredibly disturbed that the man who has repeatedly threatened my life is sitting across from me and we have somehow made his fantasies come true (in that) I am sitting in front of him and that is what he wants” (Reporter’s Transcript on Appeal, Vol. I, p.p. 102-103). The look on her face said it all as she glanced at Hoskins. Hoskins just sat at the counsel table, humming a song to himself.
The jury found Hoskins guilty of stalking, making terrorist threats, and assault on Madonna’s bodyguard. After the trial, several of the jurors were interviewed by the media. One female juror was asked whether she would have been afraid of Hoskins if she was in Madonna’s place. Her reply was, “Of course. Who wouldn’t be?”
Between the time of his conviction and the time of his sentencing, Hoskins filled his cell walls with graffiti that read, “I Love Madonna” and “Madonna Love Me” and underneath his bed he wrote “The Madonna Stalker” (Figures 2 and 3). When a Sheriff’s Deputy confronted him about the graffiti, Hoskins said Madonna wrote it and that when he got out of jail, he was “going to slice the lying bitch’s throat from ear to ear.” At the sentencing hearing, the Sheriff’s Deputy was called as a witness to repeat Hoskins’ statement. The judge sentenced Hoskins to the maximum term of 10 years in the state prison.
On July 11, 1997, Hoskins was brought back to court on a legal technicality in which the judge needed to indicate on the record that she knew that she had jurisdiction to ignore his prior burglary conviction but chose not to do so when she had originally sentenced him. Hoskins appeared in court and seemed much calmer and lucid than he had been during the trial. The judge commented on the improvement in his appearance. After the judge made it clear that she believed that 10 years in prison was the appropriate sentence for Hoskins’ crimes, she asked him if he had been receiving any type of mental health treatment while in prison. Hoskins became visibly upset and told the judge that he had not received any treatment because there was “nothing wrong with me.” He then stated that he had been mistreated in prison, but that he had a friend on the outside who would help him take care of things. Hoskins then leaned toward the judge and told her that when he got out of prison, he was coming back to take care of everyone in the courtroom.
Prosecuting a case involving a world-famous personality, such as Madonna, presented some unique problems. From the day that Hoskins was arrested until after his sentencing, this case was scrutinized by the worldwide press, magazine arid television reporters, and cameramen. At first, the press found the surrounding facts of the case amusing. One headline referred to Hoskins as “Mr. Madonna” and focused on how he told several people that he was Madonna’s husband. He was portrayed as a harmless eccentric. These articles did not include how Hoskins had threatened to slice Madonna’s throat from ear to ear. A reporter from a British newspaper called and asked how our office could prosecute this poor man who, after all, had been shot by Madonna’s bodyguard. It was pointed out to the reporter that Hoskins was shot only after he had attacked and tried to kill Basil Stephens.
The danger of all this pretrial publicity was that a lot of misinformation was given to the public from which the jury pool was to be selected. When a jury is first seated, they must be fair and impartial, and not tainted by things they may have previously seen or heard in the media.
Ten years later, Hoskins is still incarcerated. He is currently in a locked-down criminal psychiatric facility, having been evaluated as still a great danger to the community. When he was interviewed by a prison psychologist approximately three years ago, Hoskins told him that the first thing that he was going to do upon his release was to purchase a gun and start "shooting at the stars". He also told the psychologist that he knew that when he attacked Basil Stephens, that Stephens was really "Madonna in male form" and that Madonna's spirit could leave her body and become someone else. Imagine what would happen should Hoskins finally be released and carries out his plan to obtain a gun. In his mind, anyone including a small child, could be Madonna, and Hoskins is patiently waiting to take his revenge.
Robert Hoskins, Robert Bardo, and Arthur Jackson are clear and dramatic examples of obsessed fans who were willing to commit acts of violence in order to narcissistically link their names forever with the names of their celebrity victims. (Meloy, 1996) Richard Poynton is a true sociopath who felt completely justified in stalking and killing his wife and mother of his children, thus completely destroying numerous lives. For over 14 years, Laura has remained obsessed with the "wrong" that has been done to her, feeling no compassion or remorse for those who are the objects of her never-ending hatred.
Last updated 8/20/05
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