Tuesday, Jun 29, 2004

Judge rules Heatherington fabricated stalker

Dar Heatherington tears up while talking to reporters last summer in Lethbridge, Alta.
Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP
Dar Heatherington tears up while talking to reporters last summer in Lethbridge, Alta.


Globe and Mail Update

A small-town Alberta politician who sparked an international manhunt after disappearing on a trip to the United States was found guilty in Lethbridge court on Tuesday of fabricating a stalker and writing dirty letters to herself.

Dar Heatherington could be sentenced to prison on Sept. 10, after undergoing a psychiatric assessment. Her position on Lethbridge council is also in jeopardy, the mayor having threatened to turf her if she was convicted.

The ruling is another public humiliation for Ms. Heatherington, 41, who made news headlines across the country after vanishing while on council business to Montana. She reappeared in Las Vegas and said she'd been abducted and assaulted. She later recanted.

Ms. Heatherington had previously complained to police that she was being stalked and suggested that her husband may have been to blame.

The judge said that Ms. Heatherington could not be trusted, publicly questioning her credibility before finding her guilty. Her sniffles could be heard in the courtroom as Judge Peter Caffaro delivered his decision. She stared straight ahead, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.

The judge pointed out that police had seen Ms. Heatherington researching stalkers at the local library and noted that letters she showed police were similar to ones found on her computer.

"Coincidence? I think not," he said.

Ms. Heatherington faces up to five years in prison, but could appeal the verdict and keep the matter before the courts.

The case began in the fall of 2002 when Ms. Heatherington complained to police of phone calls to her office and letters to her house from an anonymous admirer. The letters became increasingly graphic. One talked of bondage.

Police put security cameras on the house and urged her to not travel alone. But sympathy turned to suspicion when Ms. Heatherington was caught lying to police about where she had found one of the letters.

Her husband, Dave, thought his wife was hiding something too. He gave police a computer disk that contained one of the stalker letters. As the evidence mounted against her, Ms. Heatherington told her self-defence instructor that the stalker was now threatening to abduct her.

Days later, while in Montana she vanished, resurfacing in Las Vegas with a harrowing tale of abduction, drugging, humiliation and assault. She later recanted the allegations.

With a report from Canadian Press in Lethbridge