It was the night after Christmas in 2011, just before 9 p.m. on Seabreeze Avenue in Palm Beach, and Elizabeth and Mark Schulhof had just returned to their vacation home from a dinner out with their two young sons.
Elizabeth Schulhof remembered that she was with her 7-year-old boy and was headed to check on the 12-month old baby she’d left behind with a nanny when she heard a knock on the door — one that took her back more than two decades and left her frozen with fear.
“From the minute I heard the knock, I knew it was him,” Schulhof, 49, told a Palm Beach County jury last week. “I don’t know why. I just knew.”
She said the man at the door was the same man who, since April 12, has been on trial in an aggravated stalking case that hinged on the man’s twisted belief that the Schulhof and he were star-crossed lovers destined to be together.
Johnathan Rosen, 52, of Miami stood accused of stalking Schulhof after they dated briefly many years before. Not just a few months of stalking. Not even a few years.
Rosen has stalked Schulhof now for nearly 31 years, prosecutors told jurors.
“This story has ended, and ended the same way every time,” Assistant State Attorney Lindsay Bruno said. “It’s how it ends every time. He won’t leave her alone.”
But Thursday it ended differently — with the jury convicting Rosen of three counts of aggravated stalking, based on Rosen’s interactions with Schulhof in 2011 and early 2012, after the judge on Wednesday threw out a charge of burglary against him.
He could get 15 years when sentenced next month
Rosen faces up to 15 years in prison when Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley sentences him May 18. His father, seated in court with his mother and another relative, cried softly after the verdict. Schulhof wasn’t there, but Bruno says she plans to speak at the sentencing.
During the trial, prosecutors told jurors about how the Schulhofs decided to sell their Palm Beach home months after Rosen tracked Schulhof to it and, as they were packing to move, Schulhof found an eyeglasses case and a receipt from Rosen in one of her bedroom drawers. She said she immediately recognized it as another of the “calling cards” he had left for her over the years to let her know that he’d found her again.
Back on Dec. 26, 2011, when Rosen was at the door, Schulhof’s husband had opened a small window near the front door to talk to Rosen. When Rosen said he was wanted to meet with the couple, Mark Schulhof pretended to be his brother, Dean, and was able to get Rosen to leave after he said agreed to pass along to Elizabeth Schulhof a Rosen family heirloom bracelet that Rosen had brought with him as a gift for her.
Afterwards, the Schulhoffs immediately packed up their children, cut their trip short, and returned to New York. Less than two weeks later, on Jan. 6, 2012, Palm Beach police spotted Rosen driving over the bridge to Palm Beach in his mother’s car.
When they stopped him, he said he was headed to Starbucks, then had plans to drop off a package at Elizabeth Schulhof’s house. In the driver’s side door of the car, police saw three kitchen knives. They found two more folding knives in the center console.
Bruno told jurors that when Rosen was arrested on charges of stalking Schulhof, he told police he was glad. This way, he said, he could see her in court.
‘Living in an illusory world of fantasy’
When the trial began last week, Rosen’s attorney, Christopher Haddad described the case as one of a man having an extraordinarily difficult time coming to terms with losing the woman he thought was the love of his life.
It was annoying. Embarrassing. Irritating even. And at worst, it was possibly the last of a number of times he’d violated a restraining order against him, Haddad said.
That didn’t mean, Haddad said, that Rosen broke any laws.
“He was living in an illusory world of fantasy,” Haddad said. “But the evidence is not consistent with showing that John ever did these things with intent to place her in fear of death or bodily harm.”
The trial, which has been delayed for years because Rosen at times has been deemed mentally incapable of assisting in his defense, wrapped up Thursday with the lawyers’ closing arguments before the jury began deliberations. Rosen did not testify, while the prosecution’s case hung on the testimony of Schulhof, who appeared so frightened when it was her time to testify last week that she clutched the arm of the deputy who led her into the courtroom before she recounted for jurors how she and Rosen met.
He couldn’t handle the break-up, she said
Schulhof, then Elizabeth Dresden, was 18 years old and one of the newer dancers with the Miami City Ballet when another dancer introduced her to the 22-year-old Rosen at a party.
The two began dating in 1987, and appeared to have some personal or romantic contact with one another for between four to six months.
Schulhof said Rosen was intense and thought they were destined to be together, and those feelings seemed to only intensify as she began to withdraw.
She was already contemplating breaking up when he asked her to meet his mother. Schulhof told jurors she arrived at the Rosen family’s Miami home to find Rosen’s mother “wandering around” dressed in a full ball gown and a tiara on her head. In her hands, she held a gun.
Soon after that, Schulhof told Rosen she wanted to break up, and she said he responded with the classic line heard in movies and real life stalking cases alike. If he couldn’t have her, no one would.
He began showing up at her performances, at her apartment, anywhere he knew she would be, to plead his case. When he couldn’t get an audience with her, she said, he tried her co-workers and friends.
Hassles turned into threats, she said
That was in the 1980s, when answering machine messages still recorded on audio tape. Schulhoff said Rosen filled up the tape on a daily basis. In the messages, she said, he would verbally berate, belittle and intimidate her. And they escalated into threats that he would find a way to make her listen.
He made good on that threat on a night when, fortunately for her, her best friend from childhood was spending the night with her at her third story Miami apartment. She said she was asleep in her bedroom when Rosen, who had scaled the outside wall of the building, broke her bedroom window and climbed inside.
He had a crazy look in his eyes, she said. His face was red. Veins protruded from his neck. He was so thirsty after the climb that he drank the water from her dog’s bowl in the bedroom.
And he was screaming.
“He said he was going to have to tie me up to get me to listen to him,” she said.
The friend’s presence and a quick call to police, Schulhof said, kept Rosen from carrying out that threat.
Ends her career as a ballerina because of the stalking
After that break-in, at the urging of Rosen’s parents, Schulhof and her parents agreed not to pursue criminal charges against Rosen if he agreed to sign what Schulhof called a “no molestation agreement” saying he would never contact her again.
Schulhof’s father, a lawyer, assisted in drawing up the legal documents for the makeshift self-imposed restraining order, which Schulhof said Rosen violated within months.
After several years, Schulhof said she ended her career as a ballerina because she knew she could no longer work in a profession so public that it would allow Rosen easy access to her and her coworkers through their performances, rehearsals and other events.
She moved to New York City, into an apartment building with a doorman and round-the-clock security. She said he found her there, too.
Over the years, Schulhof said, Rosen established what she referred to as “calling cards,” a series of mostly nonsensical mementos, gifts, food items and letters he would either mail to her or leave in places where she could find.
Even after she married, it didn’t end
Because their parents had gotten involved, she said Rosen had decided the two of them were like Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers kept apart by their parents.
Rosen also sent letters and made multiple calls to Schulhof’s father and other attorneys at his law firm, and made a target of her brother for a while, too.
But there were other times when she didn’t hear from him.
That included a stretch around 1997, when she met Mark Schulhof. When the two married in 1999, she didn’t send out wedding announcements, for fear that Rosen would somehow find out and renew his stalking.
Then, not long after the new couple had settled into an apartment in Scarsdale, N.Y., Schulhof received a package in the mail.
Inside, she said, was a rambling letter from Rosen, several pamphlets, a Jewish star for her, a Swastika he said was an “award” for her mother and a check for $1 million made out to her in her maiden name, complete with instructions that she would have to change her name back in order to cash it.
Also included in the package was a photograph of Rosen standing nude behind a computer screen, and a cell phone with a phone number programmed in it that the letter urged her to use to call him. He included the last item, Schulhof explained to jurors, because he believed her parents and others were keeping her from having access to him and that she would call him and realize that they belonged together if only she had a way to reach him.
Five more packages came after that, all of which she immediately turned over to her father’s law firm.
Fixated on having children with her
Still, she said, Rosen became fixated on the idea of them having children together. When he heard her mother-in-law had terminal cancer, he said that any children she had with her husband would be “tainted.” But she said he claimed she and he would have “prototype” children together.
Years later Rosen would admit having planned to send Schulhof his sperm in hopes that she would use it to impregnate herself, and the police who picked him up in 2012 said he told them that he was concerned that Schulhof was already 43 and that he needed to get to her while she was still able to have childen.
On the witness stand, Schulhof called Rosen her own “personal terrorist.” Fiercely protective of her children, she said she has been afraid to apply for jobs over the years out of fear she would establish a traceable routine and expose future co-workers to Rosen’s harassment.
She also has never had any social media account or made a major purchase in her name out of fear or creating a paper trail.
“I don’t even know if I would qualify for a car loan if I tried right now because I haven’t established any credit,” Schulhof said.
Three decades of stalking not unusual, attorney says
From her office in Sacramento, Calif., attorney and advocate Alexis Moore wasn’t surprised to hear that Schulhof ended her career and has lived in obscurity to escape Rosen.
In her 13 years of working with victims across the country, Moore said she has had clients undergo plastic surgery and even move out of the country to escape their stalkers.
And three decades, she said, isn’t an unusually long time for a stalker to stalk. She also doubts that even incarceration will stop the fixation, because she has worked on cases where stalkers have continued attempts to track down and harass her clients from jails and prisons.
“I think in our society we’ve kind of romanticized stalking, and it’s become a part of Hollywood movies and television shows. It’s not something that we take nearly as seriously as we should,” she said.
Moore, who coined the term “cyberstalking,” has made a career and crusade out of offering a different kind of service to stalking victims than what they can find in a traditional attorney’s office or police precinct.
Advocate knows what she’s been through
Her practice takes the business of risk management, a principle of the financial world, and applies it to assessing the potential threat level in a stalking case. After evaluating how serious a threat an alleged stalker might be, Moore guides victims through strategies to legally neutralize and sometimes turn the tables on their tormentors.
It’s a personal business for Moore, who says she was cyberstalked by a former intimate partner who terrorized her nearly three years and caused her to live in so much fear that she was once homeless.
“I had police officers telling me to stop filing complaints. This predator told me he was going to kill me, but to them I was a nuisance,” she said.
Through a combination of online and offline methods she used to confuse her attacker, along with a blog she started in 2007 to empower herself and other victims, Moore said she was able to thwart her alleged attacker.
On Wednesday she said she had empathy for Schulhof, and hoped the outcome of Rosen’s trial would offer her some measure of peace.
Why was the most serious charge thrown out?
But in a twist to the case that same day, the most serious charge filed against Rosen, the burglary charge, was thrown out by Kelley.
The three aggravated staking charges are third-degree felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison each, whereas burglary is a second-degree felony, which carries a potential 15 year sentence.
Court records show Rosen’s attorneys tried to have the charge dismissed at least once before, but it was late in the trial this week when one of them, Haddad argued for a judgment of acquittal, which allows a judge to throw out a charge before the end of a criminal trial if the defense can prove that prosecutors failed to meet a minimum standard of evidence required for a jury to consider the charge.
Judges very rarely grant such requests, and in most cases the arguments do little more than preserve a defendant’s avenues to appeal in the future. Rosen’s case, however, was different.
Haddad argued that prosecutors had a purely circumstantial case that was tenuous at best. Although Rosen had come to the door, and Schulhof’s nanny had heard what sounded like someone talking and moving around the house earlier that same evening, no one had actually seen Rosen come into the house, which is necessary for a burglary charge, Haddad said.
And because Schulhof didn’t find the “calling card” eyeglasses case and receipt until months later, Haddad argued, there was no way to establish when it had gotten there, and even less of a chance to say with any certainty who put it there.
Kelley said he personally believed that Rosen was the likely culprit, but by the legal standards of evidence, there wasn’t enough for the jury to consider the charge.
Bruno asked Kelley to consider letting the jury deliberate the burglary charge and then exercise his right to throw it out later if the jury convicted Rosen. Anything else, Bruno said, would “look bad to the jury.”
Kelly quickly dismissed the idea. The most serious charge against Rosen was out.
“I can’t make a decision based on whether it will look bad to the jury,” Kelley said, later adding: “There are seven criminal circuit judges in this circuit, and not a single one of them would have let this charge go to a jury. Not one.”
For Moore, developments like that are disappointing, but not surprising.
Still, she noted Wednesday, the jurors in this case would be able to consider three charges that collectively could mean 15 years in prison for Rosen if the judge orders him to serve them consecutively.
“That’s more than the vast majority of people I work with get out of the legal system,” Moore said. “I tell victims in these cases that if you are looking for the cops or for the justice system to be your angels, it’s not going to happen.”
The jury began deliberating about 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon and returned a verdict three hours later — guilty as charged on three counts of aggravated stalking.