This week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals will consider the case of a Wake County man convicted last year of felony stalking.
David Williams’ argument hinges on an amended law; his stalking occurred over the course of a four-month period that coincided with an change to North Carolina’s stalking statute, which lowered the burden of proof. Williams was therefore charged with two separate counts of stalking.
During Williams’ trial, the judge dismissed the second count, which covered the two-month period after the law was changed. However, Williams’ appellate lawyer contends, the trial judge neglected to tell the jury to disregard the evidence linked to the dismissed charge, and mistakenly allowed the prosecutor to weave that evidence into his closing argument.
Williams, who was sentenced to 34 to 41 months in prison, demands that his conviction be vacated.
In 2008 Tammy Smith (not her real name) met Williams, a painter, in a Raleigh gym. Williams had a prior conviction of misdemeanor stalking from 1995. After dating for several weeks, Smith broke up with Williams because she thought it was strange he didn’t have friends and still lived with his mother.
Williams called Smith repeatedly over the next few days, from his own phone and form those of others. She told him to stop. Later, Williams spotted Smith in the parking lot of a Raleigh bar and pinned her in with his car. The next morning, Smith returned to her apartment to find the door unlocked and frame broken. A closet light was on, but nothing was taken. She applied for a domestic violence protection order.
Shortly later, after Smith drove to her work at a hair salon, Williams approached her from the woods. A few days later around midnight, she heard a knock at the door and saw Williams through a peephole. She didn’t open the door. Around 2 a.m., she awoke to a clinking sound on her balcony. She looked out the window and saw Williams climbing toward her on his painter’s ladder. She called 911, and Williams left.
A few days later Smith returned to her apartment to find dead rose petals around her door. A few days after that she got a message from a woman claiming to be from Victim Services. When she called the number back, Williams answered the phone and said, “Gotcha.” The following morning she encountered Williams under the stairs to her father’s apartment.
Smith prepared a move to a new apartment. As she pulled out of the U-Haul parking lot, she spotted Williams and sped away. The next night, Smith drove up to her new apartment and saw Williams emerge from the building. He offered money to help with moving costs. She began to scream and Williams walked away. Two weeks later Smith discovered her car had been keyed.
At this point, North Carolina’s new stalking law went into effect. Shortly after, Smith left her hair salon and found her car with two deflated back tires. Two weeks later, the name of her workplace had been scratched on her car door. The following month, Smith’s father saw Williams loitering around the hair salon. A few days later, Smith discovered a GPS tracking device attached to her car. Williams was indicted for felony stalking.
Prior to his conviction, Williams’s lawyer argued that his client did not intend to scare Smith, and that she didn’t suffer from emotional distress.
Williams now argues that he did not receive a fair trial because the judge allowed the jury to consider evidence from the count that was dismissed (deflated tires, name scratched on her car door, GPS device).
“It is impossible to determine whether the jury reached its verdict based upon the dismissed count or the pending count,” Williams’ lawyer wrote.
The State, however, contends that Williams’ conviction should be upheld because, during trial, his lawyer never objected to the the jury instructions, nor did he object to the prosecutor’s closing argument that covered evidence before and after the stalking law was amended.
The Court of Appeals should issue its opinion in the coming months.