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State v. Stowell

April 13, 2004


Crow Wing County District Court File No. K3-02-1359

Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Halbrooks, Judge



Appellant challenges his sentence for two convictions of felony pattern of harassing conduct, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by (1) failing to separately identify the aggravating factors supporting each sentencing departure; (2) sentencing him in reliance upon aggravating factors unsupported by the record; (3) imposing consecutive sentences, thereby improperly exaggerating the criminality of his conduct; and (4) imposing multiple sentences for convictions arising out of a single behavioral incident. We affirm.


Katherine Anderson, n.k.a. Katherine (Katie) Melberg, terminated a romantic relationship with appellant William John Stowell in approximately June 2000. The same month, Katie began receiving harassing letters at her home address from appellant. In July, Katie began dating Jeff Melberg; they married in February 2001. Appellant began calling Jeff to say that if Jeff did not stop seeing Katie, appellant would "come and get" Jeff, "kill" Jeff and his family, or "hire someone in Minneapolis to take care of" Jeff. Between July and September, appellant sent at least 17 "frightening, offensive" letters to Katie and made at least 109 phone calls to Katie in which he threatened both Katie and her ten-year-old daughter.

In September 2000, Katie sought and obtained a harassment restraining order against appellant pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609.748 (2000). That order required that appellant have no direct or indirect contact with Katie for two years and that he stay away from her residence and place of employment. Despite the order, Katie and Jeff continued to receive calls and letters that were virtually identical to those they had earlier received from appellant. After the order was entered, appellant, assuming the names of real people – including his own daughter – sent at least 20 letters to Katie. Katie and Jeff turned the letters over to the police, who began an investigation.

Less than two months later, appellant mailed four letters to Katie's parents; each letter was signed by a different fictitious person. One stated that Jeff would soon have Katie "giving blow jobs to the high school boys." Another, purportedly from Jeff's male lover, claimed that Jeff was involved in a homosexual relationship, which was described in graphic detail. One claimed to be from an investigator conducting a "secret" ongoing investigation of Jeff's "proclivity for young children" and recommending that Katie's parents obtain custody of their granddaughter (Katie's daughter), have Katie committed, and seek a restraining order against Jeff. Although no such investigation existed, appellant tried to instigate one by repeatedly using email aliases to contact state officials with false allegations of abuse perpetrated by Jeff. During the same period, appellant sent over 30 letters to Katie either anonymously or under the assumed identities of Katie's real acquaintances.

In March 2001, appellant mailed Jeff a copy of Katie's résumé that appellant had accessed via a computer at the Brainerd Public Library, where Katie had prepared and saved the document. Appellant altered the résumé so that the descriptions of Katie's previous employment contained graphic references to sexual acts. The altered résumé, which was mailed to Jeff at work, was accompanied by a note purporting to be from the library and requesting that Katie remove the sexually explicit material from the public computer. The library subsequently denied sending the résumé and the letter. The same month, appellant mailed various pornographic materials to Jeff both at home and at work and sent a letter to Jeff stating he should stop seeing Katie because she had "genital warts and herpes." Appellant also contacted friends of Jeff and, posing as an investigator, told them that he was investigating allegations of child abuse involving Jeff. He contacted both of Jeff's former wives, by phone and by mail, in an attempt to get intimate personal information about Jeff and obtained documents related to both of Jeff's prior divorce proceedings.

Katie filed an affidavit to initiate civil-contempt proceedings against appellant for violating the harassment restraining order. In April 2001, the district court found appellant in violation of the order. At the contempt hearing, appellant denied violating the restraining order. The district court found that appellant had violated the restraining order and continued sentencing. The court carefully questioned appellant to confirm that he understood that he was to have no contact of any sort with Katie; the court also observed to appellant that "your pattern of conduct continues regardless of what the courts of this state have ordered you to do."

Despite the court's explicit instructions, prior to the contempt dispositional hearing, appellant sent various items, including pornography and dating service advertisements, to Jeff and additional letters to Katie. Appellant had a letter delivered to Jeff's son, J.M., at high school. The letter claimed to be from Tammy Jensen, a 17-year-old girl who would be attending J.M.'s school the following year, and requested that J.M. contact Tammy at an email address provided in the letter. When J.M. did not respond, appellant sent him a letter at home with a photograph depicting Tammy Jensen as a blond teenage girl. Appellant does not dispute that he created the identity of Tammy Jensen for the purpose of communicating with J.M. As Tammy Jensen, appellant established an email correspondence with J.M., confided in J.M. about an unsatisfactory relationship with her own stepfather, and convinced J.M. to share information with her concerning the Melberg family including their vacation destinations, the location of their church, their work schedules, their license plate numbers, Jeff and Katie's wedding ceremony, and Jeff's prior marriages. "Tammy" also informed J.M. that a third person, named "Pequot Nancy," had informed her that Jeff was an abusive father to J.M.

At the August 2001 dispositional hearing, appellant specifically stated, "I have complied, will comply with the order of not having any contact with Mrs. Melberg or the Melbergs or anything to do with them in any way, shape or form." The court told appellant, "It's time for you to walk away from this and leave Mrs. Melberg and her family alone for good." The court sentenced appellant to 90 days in jail with 60 days stayed on the condition that appellant stop harassing the Melbergs.

Within days of the dispositional hearing, appellant continued his "Tammy Jensen" correspondence with J.M. and learned from J.M. that Katherine and Jeff were licensed foster parents and that a foster child was currently in their care.

At the end of August 2001, the Crow Wing County Attorney asked the sheriff to begin investigating allegations that appellant was stalking and making terroristic threats against the Melbergs and violating the harassment restraining orders.

In October 2001, appellant, using different assumed names – including "Pequot Nancy" – emailed the state Department of Human Services and the Melbergs' foster care licensing agency to allege that Jeff was a child molester. Appellant provided the Melbergs' foster care licensing agent with an email address allegedly belonging to Jeff and the password to the email account, and encouraged the agent to access the account and examine the mailbox, in which appellant had put material from and links to pornographic websites. Appellant made the allegations appear credible by including references to details about the Melberg family obtained in the course of his correspondence with J.M. As a result of appellant's allegations, the Melbergs' foster child was removed from their home.

In October 2001, the sheriff learned that the Department of Human Services and the Melbergs' foster care licensing agency had received emails concerning Jeff. Upon investigation, investigators determined that all the emails had been sent from the Brainerd Public Library and a Brainerd café that provides Internet access. On October 26, the Melbergs' foster care licensing agent informed the police that she had just received an email from "Tammy Jensen" concerning Jeff. A police officer went to the Brainerd Public Library and observed appellant's vehicle in the parking lot; when appellant left the library and drove off, the officer arrested him for violating the harassment ...

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