Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Burlington Stalking Conviction

The Massachusetts Appeals Court yesterday rejected a convicted stalker’s argument that his conviction should be overturned because his conduct was “motivated by jealousy and anger” and therefore not willful.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Chonga

The defendant married the victim in Malawi and moved to Woburn in 2009.  They initially had a good relationship, but over time the defendant’s jealousy contributed to the marriage’s demise.  The defendant insisted on monitoring the victim’s cell phone and checking her emails.  Worse, according to the victim, the defendant became physically abusive and tried to choke her.  The victim said the defendant also frequently threatened to kill her.  As a result, the victim moved into an apartment in Burlington and did not tell the defendant where she was living.  In short order, the defendant found the victim and began showing up uninvited at her apartment.  The victim allowed him inside, where he continued to look at her cell phone and email messages.  During this time period, the defendant also would incessantly call the victim and accuse her of sleeping with her friends.  Around April 1, 2011, the defendant went to the victim’s apartment and threatened to kill her and himself with a knife.  The following week, the defendant repeatedly hit the victim with a boot.  As the victim was escaping, the defendant admittedly grabbed her by the arm.  The defendant was indicted and charged with numerous crimes, including rape, attempted murder, witness intimidation, and assault with a dangerous weapon.  A Middlesex Superior Court jury ultimately convicted him of stalking and a single count of assault and battery, and he appealed.

Stalking occurs when a defendant willfully and maliciously engages in at least three separate acts over a period of time, directed at the victim, which seriously annoy or alarm the victim and would cause a reasonable person to experience substantial emotional distress, and the defendant also threatens the victim intending to place her in imminent fear of bodily injury or death.  The defendant argued on appeal his conduct was not willful because it wasn’t intentional.  Instead, argued the defendant, his behavior was the result of his anger and jealousy.  The Appeals Court concluded that even if the defendant was angry and jealous, he still intentionally committed the acts that constituted stalking.  The defendant also argued there was insufficient evidence of him threatening the victim.  The Appeals Court pointed out, however, that the victim testified she was scared when the defendant pointed a knife at her and threatened to kill her.  The victim’s friend also testified that she sounded “scared for her life” immediately after the incident.

Finally, the defendant argued he should not have been convicted of assault and battery (for grabbing the victim as she tried to flee) because, in his mind, a sudden and non-violent grasp at his wife during an argument did not constitute an assault and battery.  The Appeals Court quickly rejected that argument, noting that it is “anathema to the modern law” of Massachusetts.  Accordingly, the defendant’s convictions for stalking and assault and battery will stand.