By Kelsey Landon
The twelve jurors and one alternate received their jury instructions Thursday morning as to how to conduct their deliberation in the case of Benjamin Prowell, a man accused of felony stalking.
Both counsels followed these instructions with their closing arguments.
Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays, on behalf of the People, began her argument by stating that the “evidence has met every element of stalking.”
Furthermore, Hays went on two explain the two legal elements required of stalking charges.
The first of these elements is to willfully and maliciously harass a person, with no specific reason, to the point that the victim is alarmed.
The second element is that there is credible threat to the victim—meaning there is reasonable reason to fear for the safety of the victim and/or their family and loved ones, believing the harasser has the ability to carry out this threat. This threat can be implied through course of conduct.
The victim had, as a result of his actions, changed her own behavior in order not to have contact with him.
Hays went on to reiterate that Prowell had been told not to contact the victim, had been terminated from his job, put into a bad place, and was extremely unstable.
Prowell was told directly from the victim that she was scared by his persistent contact and that she perceived it to be threatening.
Prowell had held conversations independent of the victim that explicitly talked about sabotaging the victim’s place of employment. Hays maintained that Prowell was aware that his conduct would incite violence.
As far as being marred by mental illness that made him incapable of controlling these impulses to contact the victim, Hays argued that since he still managed to continue paying his bills and find other work, he must have had some sort of impulse control and rational thinking.
Hays ended her address to the jury by saying that it did not matter what they considered to be the genesis of his stalking, in the end the evidence points to stalking regardless.
Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso, from the defense counsel representing Prowell, took to the podium for his closing argument, accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation.
He started his final argument by telling the jury that the most important factor in this case is the intent of the defendant’s actions, not the interpretation.
Borruso explained how Prowell had a hard time with this relationship, and that no one denied that.
He went on to say that when the relationship ended, Prowell had had a psychiatric break, resulting in a leave of absence at his place of employment. In doing this, Prowell had recognized that since the alleged victim was his supervisor, working under her would trigger Prowell.
Borruso said that Prowell’s intent was not to threaten the victim, and that Prowell had even gone so far as to give the alleged victim instructions on how to block him on various social media platforms.
In Borruso’s argument, Prowell had felt perceived injustice after the breakup. The conversations Prowell held outside of those with the victim were just him venting with friends.
As far as Detective Helton’s involvement in the case, Borruso argued that Sacramento County originally did not think there was a credible threat, thus they did not investigate further.
The alleged victim was going to do whatever she could to get Prowell to stop contacting her. It was only when the victim’s sister, who works for the organization Empower Yolo—an esteemed domestic violence refuge—became involved, Helton had a “subconscious bias” to investigate the case further.
Borruso held that this pressure from Empower Yolo, as well as other connections to law enforcement, those involved in the case, would induce Helton to pay extra special attention to what otherwise might have been overlooked.
As far as the credibility of the threat goes, the defense argued that Prowell had not contacted the alleged victim since his arrest in January of 2017.
In order to be charged with stalking, the People must provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Prowell had been a credible threat, and Borruso insisted that his client’s contact with the woman was a symptom of his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This impulsive communication through technology was not limited to the alleged victim.
Borruso claimed that, while Prowell may have been intent on causing mischief, he was not threatening.
Furthermore, the defense claimed that voluntary intoxication might further remove the possibility that he was intent on making a threat.
According to the defense, Detective Helton would have made an arrest at the start if he had reason to believe there was a real and imminent credible threat toward the victim.
Prowell’s cooperation with Helton further signified that he was trying to make an effort to stop his contact with the victim.
The defense closed by stating that this case was not about Prowell’s intent to threaten the alleged victim, rather his inability to control himself and his contact with her.
In the final attempt by the People to prove their burden to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt, Hays began her rebuttal.
The deputy district attorney began by pointing out that Prowell never provided any sort of formal diagnosis of OCD, the only indication that he had this disability being his own words at one time.
Hays argued that, otherwise, his actions were all characteristic with that of a stalker.
Furthermore, Hays argued that being intoxicated is not an excuse for actions, and that if he was lucid enough to send coherent emails he must have done so purposefully.
Hays went on to address the fact that it does not matter whether or not Helton had some sort of bias to look into the case further, he still investigated and provided enough evidence to charge Prowell.
Concluding her argument, Hays stated that, in context, Prowell’s messages were threats. His conversations outside of his contact with the victim showed that he thought his actions were funny.
The jury received their final instructions and were taken to deliberate.