Senator, Wife Know Awful Lot About Stalkers : They describe ordeal to panel considering legislation to make harassment a federal offense.
Sen. Robert Krueger (D-Tex.) and his wife, Kathleen, have lived in fear for eight years. They have picked up the phone to hear a former campaign worker screaming obscenities or making death threats. They have heard the man pounding at the family door or endlessly ringing the doorbell. And they have found terrifying notes in their mailbox.
The former worker is now in jail for the third time. But the family has little doubt that the harassment will resume once he is released, Kathleen Krueger told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as it considered legislation to make stalking a federal crime.
In a surprising twist, both women members of the panel, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), revealed that they had been targets of stalkers who repeatedly harassed or threatened them.
In 1990, California became the first state to make stalking a felony, punishable by a maximum prison sentence of three years. Although 32 other states have adopted similar laws, stalking is not recognized as a crime in the other 18.
A bill by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) would allow prosecution of some stalking cases in those 18 states and, by providing harsher penalties than exist in any state but Massachusetts, would serve as another, perhaps tougher tool in jailing stalkers.
It defines a stalker as someone whose action “seriously alarms, disturbs, harasses or terrorizes” another person, causing “substantial emotional distress.” Or, alternately, a stalker is defined as someone who threatens to cause “great bodily injury or death” and apparently can carry out the threat.
The law would apply only in those situations over which the federal government has jurisdiction--when a harasser crosses state lines or when the person uses the mail or phones to make threats.
Under the Boxer bill, first-time offenders with no criminal record could be imprisoned for up to two years, with the penalty rising to a maximum of 10 years for repeat offenders.
According to the only extensive study on stalking, 51% of stalking victims are ordinary citizens and 13% of these victims are former employers of their stalker. Of the other victims, 17% are highly recognizable celebrities and 32% are lesser known celebrities.
“It’s something I still think about and I worry about the people around me,” said Feinstein, who said she has not heard recently from the person who began harassing her when she was mayor of San Francisco. “At the time that it happened, I didn’t even realize it was stalking. That’s why the label is so important.”
Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) told fellow committee members she had listened to the testimony “with my stomach in knots” because she has been stalked by an employee she had fired.
“There’s the gut-wrenching frustration of not being able to do anything,” she said. “You want to do something but the way the system is constructed, there is nothing” that can be done.
Kathleen and Robert Krueger know the problem well. When they tried to file charges against Thomas Humphrey, the former employee, law enforcement officers and attorneys told them there was nothing they could do unless Humphrey physically tried to hurt them.
The couple met Humphrey when he piloted the small plane they used for appearances during Krueger’s unsuccessful U.S. Senate race in 1984. When her husband lost the election, Humphrey was despondent, Kathleen Krueger said.
“For months, he came to our house every day in apparent grief and depression,” she said. Finally, Krueger asked Humphrey to respect the family’s privacy and allow him and his wife to get on with their lives. With that, Kathleen Krueger said, he “snapped.”
Humphrey began calling in the middle of the night, shouting obscenities. Some days he would come to the house and ring the doorbell for up to 20 minutes. The FBI, using a narrow law that forbids verbal harassment, arrested Humphrey after his threats became specific.
While Humphrey was out of prison last summer, Mrs. Krueger said, he put a letter in their mailbox. “Look how close I can get to you,” the note said. “See, I could kill you right now if I wanted to.”
Humphrey is in prison again. And while the Kruegers have not been harmed physically, the emotional toll has been severe.
“How this has affected me and the way I live, I could not accurately describe it,” Kathleen Krueger said. “I am afraid to be alone, alone in my home, day or night.”