September 17, 2013

Lee guilty of stalking estranged Maine wife

Jurors convict him for driving from Missouri to Maine with a carload of weapons, handcuffs and plastic sheeting.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Benjamin Lee looked straight ahead as the jury forewoman to his left declared him guilty Monday of two counts of interstate stalking for the 1,500-mile drive he took last year from Missouri to Maine with a carload of weapons to track down his estranged wife and her new boyfriend.

The jury of six men and six women deliberated for three hours before reaching the verdicts on the fifth day of Lee's trial in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Lee, dressed in a white button-down dress shirt, hunched over a walker and did not look back as federal marshals led him away. His ex-wife, who was at the courthouse and has since married her boyfriend, did not come in to hear the verdict and his children, who testified against him, also weren't in the courtroom.

Lee, 52, of Springfield, Mo., repeatedly threatened to kill his wife, Tawny Lee, and her boyfriend, Timothy Mann, from the time she left him on April 12, 2012, until a month before he drove to her new home in Limerick in September 2012, according to numerous witnesses who testified during the trial.

Lee made many of those threats as he recovered from a car crash in March 2012 in which he broke his back and had to have several operations, witnesses said.

"Once he was well enough, he borrowed a car that Tawny would not recognize, that she would not be looking for," the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee, said in her closing arguments.

Tawny Lee and Mann testified that they had been warned by Lee's sister, Stella Lee, that he had disappeared from Missouri on Sept. 5, 2012, and could be on his way to Maine in a borrowed car to harm them.

Mann testified last week that he saw that car, a white Cadillac, pass back and forth in front of their Limerick home on the evening of Sept. 7, 2012, about a dozen times. He yelled details upstairs to Tawny Lee, who relayed them to police in a 911 call.

Police arrested Lee about five miles from the Limerick home. Inside the Cadillac were many weapons, including three loaded guns, two unloaded rifles, a machete, a bayonet and folding knife, as well as handcuffs, a roll of black plastic sheeting, latex gloves and camouflage face paint, according to an FBI agent who testified last week.

"The list of items is chilling," McElwee said. "These are not actions that would suggest anything but the defendant's intention to do something nefarious."

Lee's attorney, James Clifford, said in his closing arguments that Lee only made email threats to Tawny Lee and Mann when he was in and out of hospitals for his injuries, falling into low-blood sugar shock as a diabetic, and under the influence of "extremely high doses of prescription medication."

Clifford argued that once Lee was released after his fifth hospitalization, all of his subsequent emails were cordial and polite, a stark contrast from emails sent during what doctors referred to as his "altered mental status" from his ailments.

"The emails sent before that made no sense and were a product of Mr. Lee's extremely poor health," Clifford said.

To prove its case, the prosecution had to show that Lee crossed state lines, intended harm to Tawny Lee and Mann and that he put them in fear, U.S. District Judge Judge D. Brock Hornby told the the jury Monday morning.

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