Internet postings anger crime victims
Source: Montgomery Advertiser
By Jay Reeves
Date: December 29, 2003
Mary Kate Gach hoped she'd heard the last of Jack Trawick when he went to death row for abducting and murdering her daughter in 1992, but she hadn't.
Trawick's twisted writings about how he beat, strangled and stabbed Stephanie Gach and killed other women are available for anyone who wants to read them on the Internet, courtesy of a one-time pen pal and admirer.
The online mayhem doesn't stop there. People have posted letters and artwork by dozens of U.S. death row inmates, an act that anti-crime groups see as added torture for grieving relatives and friends.
"It's going on all over," said Nancy Ruhe, executive director of Parents of Murdered Children Inc. in Cincinnati. "People say to me all the time, 'When are these (victims) going to get over it?' They can't."
Typically, material from inmates makes it to the Internet through an intermediary. Prisoners send letters to people or companies on the outside, where it is then posted online.
In Trawick's case, Alabama prison officials say it appears he stopped sending out new stories about murder after Gach's mother and others complained early this year.
But Trawick's old writings still are on the Web, and dozens of sites are available for prisoners seeking correspondence by mail. Susan Smith, serving life for murdering her two sons in South Carolina in 1994, placed an online ad through a Florida company but then had it removed in July because of the publicity it received.
While Ruhe said victims complain most often about the pen pal Web sites, the ones dedicated to murderers' writings are more disturbing. In one letter posted on the Internet, Trawick reveled in the Gach slaying.
"I would do the whole thing again knowing death row was waiting for me," wrote Trawick, 56, from Holman Prison.
Trawick confessed to kidnapping Gach, 21, from a Birmingham-area shopping mall on Oct. 9, 1992. He took her to an isolated area where she was beaten with a hammer, strangled, and stabbed through the heart.
Gach's body was thrown off an embankment, where it was found the next day. Trawick was convicted in 1994 of murdering Gach, and he was convicted the next year in the slaying of Aileen Pruitt, 27, killed about four months before Gach.
Gach's mother purposely avoids seeing or listening to anything about Trawick. But she is still offended knowing Trawick has a worldwide platform for his sadistic prose.
In stories circulated by Trawick's one-time pen pal, Neil O'Connor of Mount Laurel, N.J., the killer even taunts Gach by name.
"I'm mad as hell. Those people don't even have a right to speak my name or my child's name," she said. "There's got to be a way to keep them from funneling this stuff out of prisons."
Experts say little can be done about Web sites featuring the writings of killers because of free-speech rights. "It's the First Amendment," Ruhe acknowledges.
The same protections prevent prison officials from blocking inmates' outgoing mail unless it presents a security risk or involves crime, said Amy Fettig, a civil liberties attorney in Washington.
"Certainly I would understand victims being upset, and prison officials have a right to read mail," said Fettig, who is with the ACLU's National Prison Project. "(But) just saying nasty things or having bad opinions is not a crime."
In one test of inmate rights in cyberspace, a federal judge in May threw out an Arizona law that made it a misdemeanor for state inmates to send out material to be posted on Web sites.
The judge ruled the law wasn't "rationally related to legitimate penological objectives" and struck it down as unconstitutional.
In Alabama, victims' families have tried to apply public pressure to keep inmates off the Web.
Earlier this year, Gach and other victim's relatives met with Prison Commissioner Donal Campbell to protest inmate Web sites. Material about Trawick already had been removed from O'Connor's site, but survivors wanted assurances the same thing would not happen again.
Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said workers screened Trawick's mail extra closely for a time, and Trawick has told officials he is no longer corresponding with the man who placed his letters on the Internet.
But Trawick's writings have reappeared in new postings in recent weeks, adding new pain and outrage to old wounds that will never heal.
"I'm in shock. I feel like I have been here before," said Stephanie Gach's mom.
O'Connor denied having contact with Trawick in a year and said he had not put any more of his writings on the Internet.
Regardless of free speech rights, Corbett said Alabama couldn't actively screen the mail for all its 28,000 inmates if it wanted to keep them off the Web.
"I'm not condoning it, but it's something that is virtually impossible to stop," he said.
^macro[showdigestcomments;^uri;Internet postings anger crime victims]