Thursday, April 17, 2014
PORTLAND — Tawny Lee yelled into the phone on her third 911 call in a row.
Her estranged husband, whom she called a "stalker" and "mean," had tracked her from Missouri to Maine and was driving back and forth outside the home in Limerick that she shared with her new boyfriend.
Lee was the first witness to testify Tuesday in the trial of her ex-husband, Benjamin Lee, who was arrested shortly after that 911 call a year ago.
He had driven to her home in a borrowed car full of weapons, including five guns and a machete, as well as handcuffs, duct tape and a roll of plastic sheeting, according to court records.
He had told at least two people that he planned to kill his wife and her new lover.
Lee, 52, is charged with two counts of interstate stalking, traveling cross country with intention to kill, injure, harass or intimidate his wife and her boyfriend, Timothy Mann, or to conduct surveillance with intention to kill, injure, harass or intimidate them.
Tuesday was the first day of Lee's jury trial in U.S. District Court, with Judge D. Brock Hornby presiding.
Tawny Lee's recorded 911 call was played in court on Tuesday afternoon.
"He will kill us. Get someone here now," she said in call.
The 911 dispatcher told her to calm down and stop yelling.
"I can't help it. We're terrified," Lee responded, crying. "This guy has driven 2,000 miles with a broken back. He's crazy."
Benjamin Lee's lawyer, James Clifford, said in his opening statement that the evidence will not show that his client intended to harm his wife or her boyfriend.
"This case is entirely about what Benjamin Lee intended," he said.
The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee, said in her opening statement that at least two people, Benjamin Lee's sister and one of his friends in Missouri, heard him threatening to kill his wife, who remarried and now is Tawny Mann.
McElwee said he also sent many threatening emails before making the drive to Maine.
Police arrested Lee outside the Peppermill Restaurant in Limerick, about five miles from his wife's home, on Sept. 7, 2012, shortly after she called police.
He has remained in custody since then, facing as much as five years in prison on each charge.
Clifford said records would show that Lee was in an "altered mental state" when he sent the threatening emails in May 2012, and that he was hospitalized five times from March to June 2012, including three times for psychiatric admission.
Clifford said the most alarming emails came in the period from May 17 to May 22, after his wife had left him and before he knew where she had gone. On May 22, he went into a diabetic shock.
By May 31, his wife told him where she was and Lee "seemed to calm down," Clifford said.
Lee, who broke his back in a car crash in March 2012, used a walker to enter and leave the courtroom Tuesday.
His ex-wife, who spent most of the day on the witness stand, described 35 years of rocky marriage after marrying him in Colorado when she was 17.
She said she worried from the time she left him in April 2012 that he would want revenge, but called him 125 times after leaving him and exchanged many emails.
She said she got more worried on Sept. 5, 2012, when she got a call from Stella Lee, her sister-in-law, who told her that Benjamin Lee was missing, had threatened her and was driving to Maine in a borrowed white Cadillac.
"He never traveled without a gun," Tawny Lee said.
She said she left him in part because he abused prescription painkillers, which made him volatile at times.
He had mood swings "like a roller coaster ride," she said.
Lee's trial is expected to continue for the rest of this week and possibly into next week.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: