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US man on Net stalking rap

Harassed ex, now faces jail

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A South Carolina man has become the first person to be charged under US laws prohibiting Internet stalking.

Robert James Murphy, 38, of Columbia, South Carolina, denied 26 counts of using his computer to "to annoy, abuse, threaten and harass" Joelle Ligon, a 35 year-old Seattle woman, at a US District Court hearing last week. Conviction of each of the charges is punishable by up to two years in prison. Murphy was released on bail of $50,000 pending further hearings.

His prosecution is the first to rely on a 1997 amendment to federal telecommunications law outlawing cyber-harassment, AP reports. The law criminalises sending obscene email in the same way earlier regulations punished individuals who made threatening or abusive phone calls.

Ligon, then resident in Salt Lake City, Utah, dated Murphy between the ages of 15 and 22. The seven-year relationship broke up 13 years ago.

Prosecutors charge that Murphy sent "obscene and sexually explicit messages and pictures" to Ligon and her co-workers from 1998 onwards. These messages continued even when Ligon moved job or state. Ligon ignored these email for four years before approaching police, who allegedly tracked these messages back to Murphy.

Last week Ligon came face to face with Murphy for the first time since 1991. "He didn't give me any eye contact," Ligon said after the hearing. "He has been a faceless entity to me. I wanted to see him, and I wanted him to know that I was looking at him."

Murphy's trial is due to begin on 6 July. ®

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