OLYMPIA – Twelve years after his first felony stalking conviction for repeatedly violating a no-contact order filed against him by a local woman, Michael Van Mieghem stood in court Tuesday to face sentencing for stalking the woman again in 2008.
Van Mieghem, 63, has mental health issues that may stem from a doctor’s misuse of forceps that caused permanent brain damage, according to a letter to the court from his brother in 1997.
During a bench trial in Thurston County Superior Court this month, a judge convicted Van Mieghem of felony stalking for repeatedly trying to contact the same woman he had stalked in 1997. Van Mieghem had left 10 phone messages for the woman’s former employer in June 2008, and when he was contacted by police, he said he was “madly in love” with the woman and “can’t stop himself from contacting her,” court papers state.
When police contacted the woman, she said she had received a number of letters from Van Mieghem in 2008, and she was “concerned with the fact that the defendant now knows where she lives,” court papers state
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy continued Van Mieghem’s sentencing Tuesday as his defense attorney, Margaret Brammall, requested more time to try to get mental health treatment as part of his sentence.
Van Mieghem, who opposed the sentencing delay, told Judge Murphy on Tuesday that he does not believe in the state’s stalking laws.
Thurston County deputy prosecuting attorney Jennifer Lord said there is no indication that Van Mieghem won’t try to contact the victim again after he is released from custody.
He has been in jail since fall 2008, Lord said, and with time served, his potential sentencing range for his new felony stalking conviction might not place him in custody for long.
After Van Mieghem’s first felony stalking conviction against the woman, he was sentenced in 1997 to 30 months in prison.
Lord said she plans to request a 14-month prison sentence for Van Mieghem in his most recent pending case. She added that because of Van Mieghem’s mental health issues, it is unlikely that he would be placed with the general population in a state penitentiary.
Court records indicate that Van Mieghem has never had any kind of personal relationship – romantic or otherwise – with his victim.
“I can tell you on the record that she has testified that she is terrified of the defendant in this case,” Lord said.
According to court papers, Van Mieghem was an acquaintance of his victim in the 1960s. “At no time has there ever been a relationship of a romantic nature … nor have they ever socialized with one another,” court papers state.
In 1985, Van Mieghem began regularly calling and writing the victim. During a 10-year period between 1985 and 1995, Van Mieghem sent about 50 letters to the victim and left dozens of messages on her answering machine. “In December of 1995, defendant’s contacts with (the woman) became more frequent, intense and overtly sexual in nature,” court papers state. “Specifically, defendant frequently sent letters and left telephone messages for (the woman) in which he professed his obsessive romantic interest in her and described his sexual fantasies.”
Brammall said that Van Mieghem’s most recent attempts to contact the woman again in 2008 coincided with his discontinuation of his medications.
Lord said the victim is open to a sentencing option that would protect her safety but also allow Van Mieghem to avoid a lengthy incarceration.
Van Mieghem said Tuesday that he fears going back to prison at his age. In a letter to the court in 1997, Van Mieghem’s brother wrote, “Rather than a prison, my brother needs to be in a hospital. He needs to be cared for by professionals interested in his mental well-being.”
Daniel Van Mieghem added in the letter, “I have never known my brother to cause physical harm to anyone.”
Lord added that she wants some kind of community custody – court ordered supervision that would monitor Van Mieghem after his release.
“I’m very concerned that he will continue to stalk this victim,” Lord said.
Van Mieghem’s sentencing hearing has been rescheduled for June 9.
Stalking is generally defined in Washington as when a person intentionally and repeatedly follows and harasses another person, placing the victim in fear that the stalking intends to injure that person.
In Washington, stalking is a gross misdemeanor, but is a felony in the following circumstances:
• When the defendant has previous harassment convictions against the same victim.
• When the stalking violates an existing protection order against the person being stalked.
• When the defendant has a prior gross misdemeanor or felony stalking offense for stalking another person.
• When the stalker is armed with a deadly weapon.
There are other provisions that make stalking a felony, including the stalking of a law enforcement officer, a judge, an attorney, a witness or stalking in retaliation against someone performing official duties.
Jeremy Pawloski, 360-754-5465