Wednesday, March 12, 2014
PORTLAND – Stella Lee heard her brother in Missouri threaten to kill his estranged wife and her new boyfriend so many times last summer that when her brother disappeared in September 2012, she called her sister-in law in Maine to warn her.
Stella Lee testified on the second day of her brother Benjamin Lee's trial in U.S. District Court in Portland. Lee is accused of driving cross country from Missouri to Limerick, Maine, to track down his wife and her boyfriend with a carload of weapons, including five guns and a machete, as well as handcuffs, duct tape and a roll of plastic sheeting.
Lee, 52, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of interstate stalking, crossing state lines with the intention to kill, injure, harass or intimidate his wife, Tawny Lee, and her boyfriend, Timothy Mann, or to conduct surveillance on them with intention to kill, injure, harass or intimidate them.
Stella Lee testified that she had gone from her home in Colorado to Missouri from July to August 2012, staying a few houses away from her brother's home in Springfield, checking on him every day as he recovered from breaking his back in a car crash earlier in the year. The crash occurred shortly before his wife left him without telling him where she was going.
"He was angry with Tawny for leaving him, and he was angry with Tim because she was with Tim," Stella Lee testified. "He would just have outbursts of, 'I'm going to kill him,' or go into details of how he was going to get Tawny back. He mentioned that he would shoot (Mann) in the face and that it would look like a carjacking."
Stella Lee said that she consulted other members of her family after she lost contact with her brother around Sept. 5 or 6 and decided she had to warn Tawny Lee to be on the lookout for the white Cadillac her brother could be driving.
"I was horrified by what might happen to Tawny," she said.
Another witness, Charles Prentice, said that he and Lee had been friends for years and that Lee only once threatened to kill Tawny Lee and Mann. The two talked on the phone daily.
Prentice said he couldn't remember the exact date Lee made the threats, but remembered that Lee made the statement only after learning that Tawny Lee and Mann had moved to a home in Limerick.
"He said he knew where she was, and she's with Tim up in Limerick, Maine, and he's going to kill (him)," Prentice said, "and if she won't come home, he's going to kill her too."
Prentice, who is now retired, said he immediately reprimanded Lee after the threats, telling him he wouldn't talk to him "until he got his act together."
"When he made that statement, I told him that is not acceptable speech," Prentice said.
Lee was arrested on Sept. 7, 2012, after his wife spotted his car outside her home in Limerick and called 911. He has been in custody since.
Lee's attorney, James Clifford, said during opening statements that the case comes down to what Lee's intentions were. He said the prosecution wouldn't be able to prove that Lee intended to harm Tawny Lee or Mann.
Lee's daughter and son also testified on Wednesday, with his son, Avery Lee, condemning his father's actions.
"He told me he wasn't going to hurt anybody, he wasn't even going to look for them," said Avery Lee, 23. "All I know is he did something he told me he would not do, and there's no defending it."
Avery Lee said that he returned to his family home days after his father's arrest and discovered a letter his father had left for him.
The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee, showed the jury an enlarged image of the letter, using an overhead projector in the courtroom.
"Avery, son, if you are reading this than (sic) I am sorry," the signed letter said. "I am probably dead or not with you any longer."
The trial, with Judge D. Brock Hornby presiding, may continue the rest of the week and possibly into next week. Lee faces up to five years in federal prison on each of the charges.
Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at: 791-6304 or at: