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Senate panel passes two crime bills

Lawmakers target attempted murder, Internet harassment

Monitor staff

One woman told of a horrific attack on her body, the other of a malicious assault on her mind. Both, however, achieved the same result yesterday: getting a state Senate committee to recommend expanding the criminal code.

Abigail Lourie was out walking her dog near her Portsmouth home six years ago when she was attacked by a 16-year-old wielding a broken bottle. He dragged her to a ditch where he raped her and cut her jugular, then danced a jig over her body and left her for dead.

Somehow, Lourie survived. Someone witnessed the end of the attack and called for help; although she'd lost half the blood in her body, Lourie pulled through at the hospital.

Her good luck had unfortunate consequences, though, Lourie told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. She said her attacker wound up facing charges for attempted murder rather than murder because she survived. As a result, her assailant wound up with a minimum of only 35 years in prison, and will be able to apply for parole in about 15 years.

Criminals shouldn't get off with lighter sentences just because their victims barely survived potentially fatal attacks, Lourie said. She urged the committee to pass a bill that would give judges the option of sentencing those convicted of attempted murder to life in prison.

As it stands now, judges can only sentence attempted murder convictions up to 30 years. Under the proposed legislation, which has already passed the House, judges would have the option of a life sentence for attempted murder, but could still sentence for less than that.

"I'm still waiting for when he's coming out. When I'm really upset and feeling the terror of it there are times I wish I had died because then he'd be locked up for longer," Lourie told the committee.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Charles Putnam testified for the bill, saying it "makes good common sense."

"These are serious attempts at killing which, there but for the grace of God and medical technology, would be successful," he said. Just because their victims survived didn't make attempted murderers any less of a threat to the public, he added.

Lourie's testimony was preceded by that of a woman who described being brutalized in a more modern way: over the Internet. Jayne Hitchcock urged the committee to pass a bill to include "cyberstalking" in the state's harassment laws.

A few years ago, Hitchcock said, someone started e-mailing her employer, the University of Maryland, and her literary agent with messages forged in her name crudely insulting the recipients.

One message announced, in part, "I'm an assistant teacher at (the University of Maryland) and I think you and the whole of (the university) are a bunch of morons insidiously festering away your small brains."

Then the harasser started posting Hitchcock's name, home phone number and address on Internet news groups, inviting people to contact her for "group macho/sadistic interaction." Calls started coming from as far away as Germany, Hitchock said.

When she reported the incidents to the local police, they said they couldn't act because there were no laws covering Internet harassment. Hitchcock set out on a campaign to get a new law on the books in Maryland, and after moving to New England, she is now trying to do the same in New Hampshire and the rest of the region.

"It's been crazy, and I don't want it to happen to anyone else," Hitchcock said.

She has a $10 million lawsuit against the trio she suspects was responsible for the stalking, she said. She said they were upset about a tip she gave the New York state attorney general concerning a scam targeted at aspiring writers.

Hitchcock found a sympathetic ear in committee chairwoman Debora Pignatelli, who said her family had been harassed over the Internet, too. She and others had "very disgusting messages" forged in her son's name, she said.

Rep. Richard Dolan of Raymond testified that expanding the definition of harassment wouldn't place an added burden on the police. It wasn't that there were more harassers today, he said, it was just that they were using different tools.

"The people who used to go after people on the phones are now going to go after them on the Internet," he said.

(Alec MacGillis can be reached at 224-5301, ext. 304, or by e-mail at

Thursday, May 20, 1999

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