ACLU takes case of woman accused of using e-mail to harass

September 30, 2004|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken the case of a Sykesville woman charged with sending harassing e-mails in June to an outspoken proponent of the death penalty.

Rachael Lee Riffee, 34, is accused of writing several obscenity-laced e-mail messages and Web site postings in the days around Steven Howard Oken's June 17 execution, according to charging documents.

The messages were sent to a pro-death penalty Web site hosted by Fred A. Romano, the brother of Dawn Marie Garvin, who was raped and killed by Oken in 1987. Maryland State Police detectives tracked the e-mail account to Riffee, who was charged June 30 with one count of electronic mail harassment, the court documents state.

When police served her the warrant, she told them that she sent the e-mails and that "she feels very strongly about some issues and feels she has to tell the people what she thinks," the court documents state.

Andrew Dansicker, a Baltimore lawyer who will work with the ACLU on Riffee's case, said the charge against his client violates her constitutional right to speak her mind.

"She feels very strongly that she has a First Amendment right to express her views against the death penalty," he said yesterday. "She may have used intemperate language, but she has that right."

One of the e-mails noted in Riffee's charging documents uses derogatory sexual terms to refer to the recipient. The same person sent another e-mail and other messages with similar references, according to the charging documents.

E-mails and messages on the Web site's guest book, copies of which were made available to The Sun, make references to the Holocaust -- Oken was Jewish -- and compare the recipient to Hitler.

"Even in my darkest time, I couldn't think of something that mean to say to someone," Romano said yesterday. He said he called the police because he has three children and feared for his family's safety during the emotionally charged time of Oken's execution.

Riffee's trial was scheduled for yesterday in Carroll County District Court, but it was postponed until next month at the request of her lawyers.

The charge of e-mail harassment is a misdemeanor that carries a possible penalty of one year in jail and a $500 fine.

A letter signed by an "R.L. Riffee" of Sykesville published June 12 in The Sun discussed the effect that executing a condemned murderer has on that person's family and questions the reasons behind capital punishment.

Riffee's new court date is set for Oct. 28 in Carroll County.

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