Session targets identifying, stopping stalkers

achristnovich@islandpacket.comJune 8, 2012 

The voice on the 911 call asked over and over again how close police were.

The man who had been stalking her for nearly 10 months had found her, the woman said, and he's "going to kill me."

The police dispatcher urged the woman to stay on the line before hearing a man's voice, the words surprisingly calm and quiet. "Put the phone down," he said.

Moments later, after the line went dead, the stalker made good on his deadly promise. Then, he killed himself.

That tape of Peggy Klinke's last moments, made in January of 2003 in California, was played Friday as a part of a stalking recognition session hosted by the Jasper County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council.

"Stalking and Harassment: Intimate Partner Terrorism" drew about 100 judges, police officers, sheriff's deputies and attorneys from the state's 14th Judicial Circuit to Ridgeland, where the goal was to learn the methods stalkers use and how the legal system can better protect victims.

Kelly Hall, South Carolina's assistant deputy attorney general, defined stalking as patterned actions by a person that cause emotional or mental distress and leave the victim in fear.

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone put it more bluntly: "Today's domestic violence case is tomorrow's murder. It's a repeated criminal behavior. ... It gets worse every time."

The statistics are frightening.

Women are three times more likely to be stalked than men, according data from Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse, a Beaufort County victim-support service formed in 1986.

Seventy-seven percent of victims know the offender.

And 59 percent are or were intimate partners.

Stalkers also have new tools with which to hunt their victims, according to Michelle Garcia of the Washington, D.C.-based Stalking Resource Center.

Garcia and Hema Khan, the center's program attorney, described electronic devices that rival the spy gadgets found in the movies: GPS chips that can be hidden on or in a vehicle; computer programs that disguise the stalker's phone number; tiny cameras that can be easily hidden; and nearly-undetectable spyware programs that can be installed on a phone or computer to monitor the victim's every move, even if the device is not in use.

Those technologies are legal and commonly marketed to parents who use them to track their kids and to employers who use them to monitor workers.

"You don't have to be a computer geek to use this software," Garcia said.

Both women advised authorities to teach victims to save texts, emails and phone calls from their stalkers and to document incidents to help build legal cases against them.

The 14th Judicial Circuit -- composed of Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton Hampton and Jasper counties -- is the only circuit in the state that prosecutes criminal domestic violence suspects in general session court rather than in magistrate court.

"We prosecute them in the same court as robbers, rapists and murders," Stone said. "Not in the court with the people who have speeding tickets."

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