Post Tue Dec 20, 2011 10:31 pm

law enforcement finally starting to "get it" ... 1468.story

Woman Speaks Out As Ex-Boyfriend Gets Prison For Stalking Her
'It's very important that victims have a voice'


The Hartford Courant

8:32 p.m. EST, December 20, 2011

— The yellow piece of paper that Marie Fortin clutched in her hand Tuesday as she walked out of Superior Court was a reminder of a terrifying past.

Yet it also gave her hope for the future.

Minutes earlier, Judge Susan B. Handy signed the criminal protective order barring Fortin's ex-boyfriend, Frank Cusano — who police said stalked and harassed Fortin for months — from ever coming in contact with her again.

"This is in effect for the rest of your life, sir. It never changes," Handy said sternly from the bench as she sentenced Cusano to one year in prison. The 58-year-old Middletown man had pleaded guilty to violating an earlier protective order and terms of probation that he was given a year ago.

Still shaking, Fortin — whom Handy had praised during the sentencing for speaking out against a man Fortin described as a "predator" — said outside the courtroom that she was relieved to have the lifetime standing order. She said she was also relieved that Cusano was finally going to jail.

"It's a relief to know that I've been heard, knowing the judge is taking this very seriously," Fortin said. "These," she said, holding up the protective order, "are important pieces of information. It does allow police to intervene."

But Fortin also acknowledged the paper's shortcomings.

"The scary part is you can have all of these restraining orders and protective orders, but they are only going to be effective if people know they are in place," Fortin said. "It's a community effort."

Fortin, 51, was not the first woman to seek the law's help to keep Cusano away.

In September 2010, Cusano was convicted of violating a protective order prohibiting him from contacting his ex-wife, but he was given no jail time. Instead, a judge sentenced Cusano to three years in prison suspended after three years' probation.

Violation of a protective order, a felony, is punishable by up to five years in prison.

On Oct. 6, 2010, Fortin sought a restraining order against Cusano. The two had dated for months but she called it off after she said he became violent during arguments, choking her and throwing her on the ground. She said she had also learned that he had been facing larceny charges and was lying about a business that he claimed he was running.

Days after Fortin sought the restraining order, Cusano was arrested. Police said he had been stalking Fortin at her Middletown home. Cusano showed up at Fortin's workplace, at restaurants near her home asking questions about her and at her friends' homes. He also contacted her supervisors at work and even her hair stylist.

At one point, Fortin said she was hospitalized, and she no longer has her job as a human services worker. Fortin said that although she is building strength, she still lives daily with anxiety and fear.

On Tuesday, Fortin, seated in the courtroom gallery, shook her head as Cusano apologized. He said he was finally getting help for abuse that he said he suffered as a child and that he had found God. He said prison "is the worst place anyone can be."

"I'll make you proud," Cusano told the judge. "And how I do it is I will never ever again come back into any criminal courtroom as long as I live."

Handy was harsh. She warned Cusano that if he ended up standing before her again, he would be sorry.

"You bother me, Mr. Cusano," she said. "You worry me. I don't have a good feeling when I look at your history. You don't know how to take 'no' for an answer. You have terrified Ms. Fortin, and her terror is justified."

Handy sentenced Cusano to five years in prison, suspended after one year served, and five years' probation.

Prosecutor Brian Kennedy said that Cusano's criminal history of charges of criminal trespass, larceny, assault and "serious" domestic violence incidents never landed Cusano in prison. He said he hoped that prison time would create "boundaries to the defendant's behavior" toward women.

From the bench, Handy addressed Fortin.

"I know it was hard for you to come here today," Handy said. "But it is always important for me to hear from victims."

Fortin said that throughout the ordeal, she never lost sight of being something that her stalker also was — persistent. She followed up on things her friends and acquaintances told her about Cusano's harassment and worked with police to make sure he went to jail.

On Tuesday morning, Fortin said she considered missing the court hearing, telling herself that the stalking and harassment had already taken enough of a toll on her life. By the afternoon, she said, she was glad she had changed her mind.

"I think it's very important that victims have a voice," Fortin said.