The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the life sentences of former Newark businessman-optometrist David T. Matusiewicz and Amy Gonzalez for their roles the cyberstalking-related deaths of Christine Belford in Wilmington’s New Castle County Courthouse in 2013.
The case involving the Matusiewicz family was the first to tie cyberstalking to a murder-conspiracy case. The brother and sister tied their appeal to the validity of the cyberstalking charge.
After fatally shooting Belford, and her friend, Laura “Beth” Mulford in the courthouse, the defendants’ father, Thomas Matusiewicz, killed himself following a gun battle with Delaware Capitol Police. The defendants’ mother, Lenore Matusiewicz, was also convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her role but died while her appeal was pending.
The shooting climaxed a chain of events involving Matusiewicz and ex-wife Belford that included David taking their children to Central America. Prior to that time, he had quietly operated an optometry practice/business on Main Street in Newark.
Security at the courthouse has remained tight since the shooting that made national headlines.
Following a five-week jury trial in the summer of 2015, the defendants were convicted of all charges, including cyberstalking. It is believed to be the first such case tied to cyberstalking.
Following a five-week jury trial in 2015, the defendants were convicted of all charges, including cyberstalking. It is believed to be the first such case that tied the use of online media to a murder-conspiracy.
In a 77-page precedential opinion, a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences “in all respects. According to a release from the U.S., Attorney’s Office for Delaware, the panel of judges specifically recognized the trial judge for handling this “complicated case” – involving “numerous issues of first impression” – with “exceptional precision and care.”
Regarding the landmark charge of “cyberstalking resulting in death,” the Third Circuit concluded that the government sufficiently proved its case, stating that the defendants stalking conduct was the “actual” and proximate” cause of Ms. Belford’s death.
The Court specifically found David’s conduct included, among other things:
- Directing his family to send letters to Belford’s acquaintances accusing Belford of sexual abuse; setting up the in-person court hearing that brought Belford to the courthouse where Thomas shot her; lying to probation officers about the need to attend the hearing in person; and traveling from Texas to Delaware in two vehicles that were filled with numerous weapons.
The Court specifically found Amy’s conduct included, among other things:
-Spreading false accusations of child abuse by creating online postings and YouTube videos, and sending defamatory emails and letters to Belford’s acquaintances; preparing false polygraph reports about these accusations; recruiting third parties to do surveillance and report on Belford and the children; providing Thomas with temporary cell phone number and cleaning his safe when he traveled to Delaware in 2011 and showed up at Belford’s house; and filing numerous petitions for custody of the children beginning two days after Belford was killed.
Ultimately, the Court found that there was “overwhelming, uncontradicted evidence” that the accusations against Belford were false and that “both David and Gonzalez were intimately involved in this stalking campaign and conspiracy.”
United States Attorney David Weiss stated the following after the decision: “As the Court of Appeals observed, this is a watershed case of national importance. Cyberstalking is a form of psychological terror that deeply impacts its victims. Individuals who engage in such conduct are on notice that the Department of Justice will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. This outcome can never bring back Christine Belford and her courageous friend, Laura ‘Beth’ Mulford, or compensate their families for their loss – but it does rightly hold those responsible for these heinous acts. I want to thank once again the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Delaware State Police for their superb investigative work in this matter.”