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Man Sentenced for Internet Harassment

South Carolina Man Sentenced In First Federal Prosecution Of Internet Harassment

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James Robert Murphy, 38, of Columbia, South Carolina, was sentenced to 5 years of probation, 500 hours of community service, and more than $12,000 in restitution today for two counts of Use of a Telecommunications Device (the internet) with Intent to Annoy, Abuse, Threaten or Harass.

Murphy was indicted in April 2004, for sending harassing emails to Seattle resident Joelle Ligon and to other employees of the City of Seattle. He pleaded guilty to two counts in June 2004. In sentencing Murphy, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly told Murphy he "...did not demonstrate the type of remorse he should under the circumstances."

In his plea agreement, Murphy admitted he had a sporadic romantic relationship with Ligon from 1984-1990. In May of 2002, Murphy began sending dozens of uninvited and harassing emails and facsimile (fax) messages to Ligon and her co-workers. Murphy hid his identity with special email programs and created the "Anti Joelle Fan Club" (AJFC) and repeatedly sent threatening emails from this alleged group.

Murphy disseminated false information about Ligon's background to her co-workers. The harassment escalated over time, with Murphy sending pornographic material and making it appear that Ligon was sending the pornographic material to her co-workers at the City of Seattle. Even after Ligon was able to identify the person harassing her and get a court order barring contact, Murphy violated the order by sending an email denying he was the harasser.

No Remorse From Murphy

In court, Murphy told the Judge what he did was "stupid, hurtful and just plain wrong. I was going though a bad patch in my life. I want to take my lumps and get on with life."

In sentencing Murphy Judge Zilly noted that he was surprised that Murphy "made no effort to indicate your remorse to the victim, to indicate you were sorry." The Judge noted that he had received a letter from Joelle Ligon unlike any he had ever received from a crime victim.

In it Ligon asked the Judge to impose "an effective and compassionate sentence." Judge Zilly decided to impose 500 hours of community service instead of the 160 hours requested by the government. He ordered Murphy to pay $12,297.23 to the City of Seattle to compensate the City for 160 hours of work time lost by employees dealing with the harassment.

Task Force Targets Cyber Crime

This case was investigated by the Northwest Cyber Crime Task Force, composed of the FBI, United States Secret Service, Internal Revenue Service, Seattle Police Department, and Washington State Patrol. The NWCCTF investigates Cyber-related violations including criminal computer intrusions, intellectual property theft, child pornography and internet fraud.

The Task Force brings federal, state and local law enforcement agencies together to share intelligence and conduct joint investigations.

This case is believed to be the first federal prosecution of cyber harassment in the United States. Assistant United States Attorney Kathryn A. Warma is prosecuting the case.

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