Columbia resident John R. Righter was convicted yesterday of forcing a former co-worker into his vehicle and driving her handcuffed to Ohio in a case of infatuation turned obsession.
The verdict came after Righter presented no evidence in his defense, leaving Stephanie Musick's gripping testimony about her 19-hour abduction virtually unchallenged. Howard Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney found Righter, 22, guilty of eight counts, including kidnapping, false imprisonment and assault.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 31. The kidnapping charge alone carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
Court documents made public at the end of a brief trial revealed more details of Righter's obsession with Musick, 21, and his possible plans after the kidnapping.
Found inside his car when Righter was apprehended in Englewood, Ohio, were several books about how to "disappear" and "change your identity," along with eight pages of detailed notes that prosecutors say Righter had taken on the books' contents.
Assistant State's Attorney William V. Tucker said the books showed Righter had a plan when he abducted Musick at gunpoint from in front of her Columbia home in September.
"It is scary for some people out there that are being followed and pursued," Tucker said after the verdict. "Do you call it obsession? Do you call it fatal attraction? It was more than just very infatuated."
Righter's attorney, Louis P. Willemin, argued that prosecutors had not proved the crimes, primarily on technical grounds. Sweeney disagreed.
"There is no question in this court's mind that a kidnapping took place," Sweeney said, calling the evidence "overwhelming" when making his ruling. Righter waived his right to a trial by jury.
In his opening statement, Willemin said his client was "infatuated" with Musick. But Musick testified that she had objected to Righter's attention while the pair worked at Sears in Columbia.
After Righter had left the job, she discovered he followed her home from Western Maryland College on Sept. 5. She called the police.
Maryland law requires that there be a pattern of harassment before a stalking charge can be filed. Police have said they did all they could -- they spoke to Righter after Musick's complaint, and he promised not to bother her. Two weeks later, she was kidnapped.
Among the books found after Righter's arrest was "How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found." The notes on its back read, "Identity changing is not for everyone. If you decide to disappear you will know how to do it so completely that no one will ever find you."
The back of another book, "How to Create a New Identity," reads: "This book not only tells you how to create a new identity but also how to erase your past completely."
Prosecutors said Righter made notes, kept inside a blue zippered shoulder bag, on methods recommended in the books -- getting business cards, library cards, Social Security cards and group membership cards. "Small donation to group usually ensures card," the notes say.
"Applying for a new birth certificate," Righter wrote. "Call office, find out procedures (more rural, more relaxed)."
He also wrote notes to Musick.
Court documents show that after Musick told Righter to leave her alone, he left a birthday note with a cookie on her car last summer.
In September, Righter e-mailed Musick a love poem that talks of the narrator's uncontrollable infatuation with a woman.
Prosecutors said that Righter kept notes of Musick's actions.
Pub Date: 5/28/98