Woman describes her 19-hour ordeal 'Infatuated' colleague accused of abducting her from River Hill

'I was panicked,' she says

Defense is to begin presenting its case to circuit judge today

May 27, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Sitting near her alleged kidnapper yesterday for the first time since she was abducted at gunpoint from her Columbia home, Stephanie Musick described a harrowing 19 hours when she feared for her life but stayed cool enough to help police find them.

The 21-year-old woman detailed how John Righter, a former Sears, Roebuck and Co. co-worker who was infatuated with her, allegedly pulled a gun and drove her, handcuffed and terrified, to Ohio.

"I said, 'John, please, I am so scared. Are you going to hurt me? What are your plans for me?' " Musick testified of that September morning.

"He said, 'You're going to take a trip with me.' I said, 'I don't want to take a trip with you.' I was panicked. I just kept saying over and over again, 'Please not this.' I didn't want to go."

Righter, 22, of Columbia has pleaded not guilty to eight counts, including kidnapping, false imprisonment and assault.

He fixed his eyes on the floor throughout Musick's testimony. Musick -- who seemed unnerved by Righter's courtroom behavior -- glanced at him several times.

Musick was the last of several witnesses to testify for the prosecution, which wound up its case in Howard County Circuit Court. If convicted of kidnapping, Righter could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Today, the defense is expected to present its case.

Musick said Righter approached her outside her home in the exclusive River Hill section of Columbia as she walked to her car to go to work.

It was about 7: 50 a.m. He was carrying a gun, she said.

They knew each other from work, but that was as far as she wanted it to go.

Righter's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Louis P. Willemin, painted him as a lovesick man, describing him in brief opening statements yesterday as "infatuated" with her. But he said Righter never meant to cause her -- or anyone else -- any physical harm.

"He was just very, very interested in her," Willemin said, asking Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, who is hearing the case without a jury, to keep an open mind.

That interest, Musick testified, scared her.

Righter followed her at work, she said, even after she told him he had to stop. For her birthday, he left her a note and cookie on her car outside Sears at The Mall in Columbia. The note thanked her for talking to him when no one else did and was signed "John Righter. The tragic hero," she testified.

He sent her a poem by e-mail and once followed her home from Western Maryland College, where she is majoring in social work, she said.

On Sept. 5, she called police and told them she was being harassed.

Police have said that they talked to Righter, who lives in the 5000 block of Green Mountain Circle in Columbia, and that he promised he would stay away from her.

'Like in slow-motion'

But two weeks later, Musick's neighbors testified, they witnessed an abduction they could not believe was unfolding in this placid suburb.

"It was like in slow-motion," testified Alan Fennell, who said he saw Musick and Righter argue, and watched as Righter slapped handcuffs on her and pushed her into a vehicle. "I couldn't believe it was a real crime."

Earlier, as neighbors watched, Musick and Righter argued for about an hour, she said. When he showed her the gun, she began to walk down the driveway and ran into neighbor Mohammed Fiezipour.

Fiezipour testified that Musick pleaded with him to let her go inside his house. Unsure about the situation, Fiezipour agreed she could come in but Righter -- who was following her -- could not.

Then Righter threatened him with the gun, Fiezipour said.

"He said to her, 'Do you want me to shoot this guy or are you going to come with me?' " Fiezipour testified. Righter then dragged her toward his car, and Fiezipour ran inside to call police.

Musick said that before she got into the red Dodge Raider sport utility vehicle, the gun, a 9 mm Glock, fell to the ground. She grabbed it, holding it by the barrel but, terrified, returned it to Righter when he demanded it, Musick testified.

Handcuffed to seat belt

The 19-hour journey began. The pair stopped at gas stations and tried to check into motels, but Righter had only checks and $12 in cash, according to testimony from police and Musick. Musick said Righter told her he had a bank cash card but had forgotten the personal identification number.

Musick said she was handcuffed to a seat belt in the front passenger seat. At one point, she tried to raise her handcuffs while entering a Burger King drive-through so the clerk could see them.

Musick said she was sure the woman had noticed, but it took more craftiness on her part -- and her mother's -- to help police find her, according to testimony.

Righter allowed Musick to call her mother from a highway rest stop to say she was OK, but Musick was ordered not to say where she was, she testified.

Musick's mother, Diane, realizing that her daughter could not reveal her whereabouts, started asking what state she was in.

"I said, 'Are you in Delaware. Are you in Virginia? She said no," Diane Musick testified. Finally, she asked her daughter whether she was in Ohio and near Interstate 77. Her daughter, with Righter by her side, answered, "Yes."

Righter, apparently unaware of the communication, drove off with Musick after the call and continued westward, according to testimony.

Police and federal agents, at the Musicks' River Hill home when the call came in, immediately notified authorities.

ATM card rejected

Later, police learned that Righter had tried to use his bank card in Huber Heights, Ohio, although the automated teller machine rejected it. Police in the area were notified.

A police officer in Edgewood, Ohio, testified he found the couple, with Musick handcuffed to the seat belt, in a store parking lot at 4: 30 a.m. Righter was asleep.

"He always said he wasn't going to hurt me," Musick testified, telling Righter's attorney under cross-examination, "I didn't know what to believe."

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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