‘Ten years of peace’ for victims of stalking case

Posted 10/2/19

A Port Townsend man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for stalking after years of sending letters and messages and harassing multiple women in Port Townsend.

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‘Ten years of peace’ for victims of stalking case

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A Port Townsend man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for stalking after years of sending letters and messages and harassing multiple women in Port Townsend.

Fraser M. Rotchford, 37, who grew up in Port Townsend and graduated from Port Townsend High School, was sentenced on Sept. 18 by Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brent Basden.

He was given an exceptional sentence of 10 years for a felony stalking charge.

The maximum time for a felony stalking charge is 13 to 17 months, but under state law for “aggravating circumstances,” Jefferson County Prosecutor James Kennedy was able to ask for 8 to 10 years in prison because the offense invovled stalking and was part of an ongoing pattern of psychological, physical or sexual abuse of multiple victims manifested by multiple incidents over a prolonged period of time.

The reason the case was tried in Clallam County was because for a short time Rotchford was living in a motel in Port Angeles. That was when he sent several Facebook messages to a previous victim, who had a no-contact order against him.

She was just one of several women who were stalked and harassed by Rotchford over the years, Kennedy said. But because she reported the messages to the Port Townsend Police Department, they were able to begin a new investigation into the harassment.

“He’s been tormenting and harassing women for a really long time,” Kennedy said. “When you sit down and talk with the victims, you realize what an emotional toll it has taken on them. Thirteen to 17 months is simply not an adequate amount of time for someone who has been doing this to multiple people for over 10 years.”

Kennedy tried the case with Clallam County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Steven Johnson. According to Kennedy, Rotchford had been in and out of the Jefferson County criminal justice system for over 10 years.

His first stalking case began before 2009, when he started following and sending letters to a former high school classmate. When he was convicted for felony harassment in 2009, he began stalking therapists and counselors he was working with at Discovery Behavioral Health. He also began stalking a district prosecuting attorney who he would encounter in Jefferson County Courthouse and a corrections officer at the Jefferson County jail.

He began stalking the victim of this most current case in 2011, Kennedy said. She was the owner of an art gallery in Port Townsend. Rotchford showed up one day with a piece of artwork that he wanted her to show in her gallery.

When she declined, Kennedy said, Rotchford would not give it up.

“He wouldn’t let it go,” Kennedy said. “He would show up wherever she was.”

Rotchford would send letters, Facebook messages, stand outside her gallery, and follow her in her car, Kennedy said.

As time went on, Rotchford’s letters and messages became more malicious.

“It drifted over into threatening language,” Kennedy said. “He would send bizarre, lewd and disgusting things.”

Over the years, Rotchford has had 12 prior convictions for stalking and harassment and 16 different protection orders. He had spent a total of 55 months incarcerated, which had done nothing to deter or alter Rotchford from continuing to victimize women. When he was in jail for prior convictions, Rotchford would send letters to his victims, violating no-contact orders on multiple occasions.

The victim in the current case eventually moved to the East Coast in 2016, in part to get away from Rotchford. When she was contacted by him via Facebook messenger in January of 2017 while he was staying in Port Angeles, she immediately told the Port Townsend Police Department.

Rotchford represented himself in court, which allowed him the opportunity to speak with his victims, “re-victimizing them,” Kennedy said.

“While these victims were testifying, he harassed them, he called them liars, he asked one of the victims where she lived and what her house looked like,” Kennedy said. “He told her he loved her.”

The main plaintiff of the case flew out to Washington to testify, and Kennedy subpoenaed two other victims, who also testified.

“The victim who moved to the East Coast discussed how the stalking had forced her to go out of business, how she’s had to move multiple times,” Kennedy said. “She had to pick up everything and move to the East Coast without anything. How it has cost her personal relationships. How it has affected her personal health. The other victims tell similar stories.”

While Kennedy and Johnson had asked for 8 years and 24 months of probation, the judge sentenced Rotchford to a full 10 years, finding that there was no remedial measure for Rotchford.

“What I was asking for was not just a sentence for him, but I wanted the judge to sentence the victims to years of not having to look over their shoulder, years of not having to receive threatening letters, years of not having to worry about being abducted, kidnapped or raped,” Kennedy said.

But Kennedy believes that once he gets out of jail, there is a possibility that he will continue the same activities.

“Nothing has ever stopped him,” he said. “This won’t.”

But Rotchford’s parents believe that proper medical care and mental health treatment could have helped him.

“I hope and pray his victims and others feel safer,” wrote Elisabeth Rotchford, his mother. “We are deeply grieved that they have suffered; their lives have been so affected. We believe, with proper medical care, the harm could have been prevented. … I hope we can find ways to move mentally ill people out of the legal system and into compassionate and caring treatment situations where they can benefit from the care and come alongside us in our caring community.”

According to Kennedy, Rotchford had a mental health evaluation at Western State Hospital.

“He started stalking the woman who did the evaluation,” Kennedy said. He would send her letters like he did with other victims, he said.

“His victims deserve more than 10 years of peace,” said Amy Howard, who is a city council member and whose husband was friends with Rotchford in high school. “But what Fraser needs more than a jail sentence is mental health help … He didn’t fall through the cracks, he just wasn’t dealt with appropriately.”

For Howard, who said the topic is a sensitive one because of her husband’s friendship with Rotchford, this is just one of many examples of our country’s inability to deal with mental health issues and the ineffectiveness of the incarceration system.

“Things like this will continue to happen if we don’t treat mental health like an actual health problem,” she said.

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Jill Landes

Regarding the mental health issue. What needs to happen is a change in the law regarding mental illness/criminal behavior and involuntary treatment. Mr. Rotchford was afforded the opportunity to receive appropriate treatment. He declined. With the laws that we have currently he left the system with no other alternative but to incarcerate him.

Thursday, October 3