Donora woman's child torture stories get her house arrest
A Washington County woman with a fondness for author Edgar Allan Poe said in court papers that she found solace from memories of a tormented childhood by writing her own dark tales of children being kidnapped, raped and tortured.
Karen Fletcher, 56, of Donora pleaded guilty Thursday to six counts of transmission of obscene matters for sharing those stories with others over the Internet.
U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti sentenced Fletcher to five years' probation with six months' house arrest, and fined her $1,000.
"If anyone would have read the story and acted on it, a child could have experienced devastation -- that you're well aware -- they would live with for the rest of their life," Conti said.
Fletcher, who suffers severe panic attacks from agoraphobia, apologized for the ordeal caused by her Web site, RedRoseStories.com, and its content.
"I never meant for anything like this to happen, I'm sorry," said Fletcher, who charged $10 a month to control who had access to the site and to keep children from reading the stories. "This was never my intention."
Fletcher's case was unusual in that it was the first brought in decades -- and the first ever in Western Pennsylvania -- in which the charges stemmed from text only, with no images or photographs. She was indicted in September 2006 and fought the charges on free speech grounds until prosecutors agreed not to seek jail time.
She faced up to five years in prison.
"It's hard to swallow an obscenity case based on words," said First Amendment lawyer Warner Mariani, who represented Fletcher. "But this wasn't the case to push. How many defendants do you see walk out of federal court on probation?"
Though he asked for leniency, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman said this case was important.
"The government views this as a serious case," Kaufman said. "Words have power."
Fletcher's stories included details of the kidnapping and molestation of 2-year-old "Mina" and "Katie," 6, who was kidnapped, raped and tortured. Other stories featured young girls as sex slaves whose torment sometimes ended in murder.
In a sworn statement filed last year, Fletcher said she has blocked out all but a few memories of her childhood growing up in Michigan, but that she strongly believes she was sexually and physically abused. She said she ran away from home at age 14 and spent a year on the streets of Pontiac and Detroit before marrying a man who abused her.
Fletcher moved to Donora in 1999, after escaping that relationship, she said.
A recluse who lives on disability, Fletcher said she discovered that writing fictitious stories helped her cope with the sense of dread she felt. Later she found sharing these stories online brought support from people who were "damaged like me."
Fletcher said she has always feared monsters, and created even worse ones in her stories as a form of self-therapy.
"I have tried to turn things around and write positive things, but I have no confidence in the concept of good overcoming evil," Fletcher wrote. "I can unmask the horror of the monster, but I still cannot save the victims. But, leaving only the fictional victims as the helpless ones frees me.
"I may still be afraid of the monsters, but at least in the stories they prey on someone else, not me."