OLYMPIA – It’s stalking even if your friends do it.
That was the upshot of a ruling Thursday by the state’s highest court, which upheld the conviction of a Ferry County man who authorities say had his friends stalk his ex-girlfriend after a judge ordered him to stay away from her.
The ruling overturned an appeals court, which had concluded that the crime of stalking cannot be accomplished through a third person.
Wrong, said Justice Pro Tem Bobbe Bridge, writing for the court’s 6-3 majority.
The case involved Andre Paul Becklin, a 58-year-old retired logger, miner and driller who lives in Republic.
Starting in 1992, Becklin had what the court described as a “tumultuous” relationship with his girlfriend at the time, Mary Alison McGee. The two frequently fought, particularly after McGee ended the relationship. During a dispute over custody of their son, now 10, Becklin tried to force his way into McGee’s home. She got a protection order in 2003. He couldn’t contact her – even through a third party – or be within 100 feet of her.
Nonetheless, McGee testified at trial that Becklin’s friends repeatedly drove Becklin’s cars past her home. One reportedly trailed her home from court. Two of his friends said they filled out written reports for him, detailing where they’d seen McGee around town.
McGee went to police, who arrested Becklin for violating the protection order and stalking her.
At trial, the prosecutor said the evidence suggests that Becklin told his friends to follow McGee. Becklin, the prosecutor told the jury at the time, was guilty of “enlisting others to do your own dirty work.”
Becklin’s lawyer, however, argued that Becklin never personally stalked her and that there was no evidence he told his friends to follow her.
After talking it over in the jury room, jurors had a question for the judge: Can you stalk a person through a third party?
“Yes,” responded Ferry County Superior Court Judge Rebecca Baker.
That one-word answer was the crux of Becklin’s unsuccessful appeal. While the stalking law “does not explicitly refer to harassment through third parties,” Bridge wrote, it’s broad enough to include that.
Becklin was convicted and sentenced to 12 months in jail, which he served. He was released two years ago.
Three justices disagreed with Thursday’s ruling.
The judge’s answer of “yes” was overly simplistic, said Chief Justice Gerry Alexander. Under the law, he said, Becklin should only be responsible for someone else’s stalking if he prompted it. And the ruling that someone can stalk a person by proxy “flies in the face of the plain language” of the law, he said.
Becklin, the chief justice said, should have had his conviction reversed.
Contacted at home Thursday, Becklin said he was disappointed and angered by the high court’s decision. He said the case cost him a year in jail, $40,000 in costs and lost income, and his right to vote.
“This whole thing is totally a miscarriage of justice,” he said. “I am not a happy camper.”
He said he had nothing to do with his friends following McGee.
“I’m an innocent third party. I was totally unaware of this crap,” he said.
He thinks the jury instructions and the judge’s response to the jury’s question made it impossible for jurors to find him innocent.
“The system is broken,” he said.
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