A “first conviction of its kind in the United States” sends a message about cyberstalking.
On Friday a federal jury in Wilmington determined there was a conspiracy by Lenore Matusiewicz, her son, David, and daughter, Amy Gonzalez, that led to the death of Christine Belford in a first-of-its-kind cyberstalking case.
The jury spent parts of the last three days going over evidence of the case that began in U.S. District Court in early June. The case was brought in the aftermath of the fatal shootings inside the New Castle County Courthouse in 2013.
Federal Prosecutor Jamie McCall thanked the jury. “First I want to thank the jurors for their attentiveness over the last four weeks,” he said. “We think they rendered a fair and just verdict in this case.”
In speaking about the case itself, McCall went on to say, “This case represented an escalation of conduct by the Matusiewicz family against Christine Belford and her children over a number of years.”
In February 2013, before a child support hearing at the New Castle County Courthouse, Belford was shot and killed by her ex-father-in-law, Thomas Matusiewicz of Texas.
The prosecution’s case was built on video, email and social media evidence that it said proved the Matusiewicz family conducted a cyberstalking campaign over several years in an effort to gain full custody of the couple’s children. When the family failed to gain custody, they planned Belford’s death.
Ultimately the jury agreed that the death of Christine Belford was a consequence of the cyberstalking.
McCall commented on the message this verdict sends. “This prosecution represents the first time it’s ever been done, and it represents a message to everybody out there that is engaged in these legal (custody) disputes that you have to stay within the confines of the law,” he said.
The defendants each had their own attorney, all of whom expressed disappointment in the verdict and confirmed there would be an appeal.
“There will be an appeal,” said Jeremy Gonzalez Ibrahim, defense attorney for Amy Gonzalez. “There are any number of issues that we feel have merit, so we will proceed accordingly.”
While the trial played out in Delaware, the efforts of the FBI and other agencies spanned across the United States.
Scott Hinckley, assistant special agent in charge of FBI Baltimore, represented all of the law enforcement agencies involved and commented on the outcome by saying, “Today we just saw a cyberstalking resulting in death. The first conviction of its kind in the United States. It’s a success for law enforcement stretching from New Castle, Delaware all the way to Texas.”
Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 15, and, according to the Department of Justice, could be a maximum term of life in prison.