Man pleads guilty to electronic harassment

Man pleads guilty to electronic harassment

URBANA — A suburban St. Louis man who admitted that he electronically harassed a woman in Champaign County last year has been sentenced to two years of probation.

Robin King, 56, of Bella Villa, Mo., offered no explanation when asked by The News-Gazette why he posted the vulgar, racist, sexist comments on Lori Stewart's blog, other than: "There's two sides to every story."

On the advice of his Champaign attorney, Jim Martinkus, King declined to say any more. Martinkus had cautioned his client that further comment could affect his job with the Department of Defense in St. Louis.

King pleaded guilty Tuesday before Judge Tom Difanis to a single Class B misdemeanor count of harassment through electronic communication. The language of the charge said he used electronic communication to post obscene comments intended to offend Stewart and her family.

Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar told Difanis that the comments had sexual, racial and religious overtones.

Stewart laughed when she heard the "two sides to every story" comment, given that she doesn't know King and has never seen him in person.

"He was smart enough never to leave me a direct threat," Stewart said after the plea.

Stewart thought for years that her harasser, whose frequent comments dated as far back as 2007, was "some teenage kid."

When she learned last Memorial Day weekend that it was an adult man who worked for the Department of Defense, she was surprised. The harassment stopped almost a year ago when police investigators figured out King was the commenter.

"He didn't have to say he would do something to us for it to feel threatening. He was clearly unhinged. That was threatening to have an anonymous person say such nasty things to you for years. You don't know if you're sitting next to him in a restaurant, you don't know if he's a neighbor, you don't know if he's a co-worker. You just speculate 'Who has this much anger directed at you?'" she said.

Stewart said some of the comments suggested she should kill her mother who has Alzheimer's, or that her son serving in the military in the Middle East should be run through with a bayonet. He even made fun of her sister who had cancer.

"He signed me up for white supremacist websites. He subscribed me to things. I was subscribed to porn sites. He still had a way of manipulating me without ever directly threatening me. I was never terrified of the guy. I was unsettled," she said.

Stewart said she altered her posts to try to avoid the comments but he posted comments on blogs of associates that were directed at her.

When she learned that someone had created accounts using her name and signed her name to hate-filled messages directed at Jewish and gay people, she went to police.

It was in March 2013 that Champaign County sheriff's investigator Jody Ferry began looking into the posts. With the help of a Champaign police detective who is an expert in computer-related crimes, they traced the messages to King.

King never shed any light on his motivation. However, his ex-wife told police that he was on medication that caused him to behave differently than he otherwise would have, State's Attorney Julia Rietz said.

Rietz said Lozar conferred with Stewart and three other King victims before the plea and "they were aware of the terms and were in agreement."

In exchange for his plea and a promise to have no contact with them, the state dismissed four more serious felony counts of harassment by electronic communication. He was also ordered to get a mental health evaluation.

Stewart said she believes the laws on this issue are vague and she intends to contact legislators to see if they can be strengthened.

"Too many people are getting the message: 'There's nothing we can do' and are putting up with this harassment. Something needs to be done about that. Clearly it's an issue. It's not just kids messing with each other."

After having experienced the harassment for so long, Stewart said she was surprised that King agreed to plead guilty.

"I'm happy he's at least being held accountable."

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