It was just after midnight, and the caller began by leveling an accusation. He claimed that Amy had been sending nasty text messages to someone named Nick — and it needed to stop.
She was confused. "Nick who?" she asked.
As it turns out, "Nick" was Nicholas Barrale, a former coworker at the Clayton store where Amy worked as a cashier. They'd been friendly; she even gave him a few rides home from work. But that was it. He was seventeen years younger than Amy, after all.
But that's how the whole thing began — and before it was over, Amy (which is not her real name) would find herself arrested twice, held in a dirty holding cell for 34 hours on end. She had to flee her home, spend thousands of dollars on attorneys and face numerous complaints to the human-resources department at her workplace.
It wasn't until months later that the truth came out: Amy wasn't crazy, and she wasn't stalking Nicholas Barrale. That's when police determined that Barrale's own girlfriend — a divorced mom of three named Angela Fletcher, who was a cashier at the same store as Amy — had sent the text messages in question.
Indeed, prosecutors say that Fletcher sent her own boyfriend, Barrale, a total of 897 texts from two different phones: violent, sexually graphic messages in which she claimed to be Amy. Sent in a five-week period, the flurry of texts supposedly showed Amy fantasizing about having Fletcher raped, "torchered," "decapatated" and killed.
"We are going to stab the bitch for sure," read one typical message. "She is going to die the most horrible humiliating death and i'm going to take the first stab...the bitch is going to get ripped apart."
So what was Fletcher's motive in sending the fake messages and then demanding the police take action? Did she want Amy's job? (Amy had greater seniority at the store.) Or was Fletcher, 37, worried that her 28-year-old boyfriend was interested in Amy?
Assistant Circuit Attorney Christopher Finney won't speculate on the motive. But it's clear Fletcher wanted to make Amy suffer: She and Barrale filed seven police reports, hoping to convince police that Amy was out to have Fletcher raped and killed — and claim Barrale as her own.
And because both Barrale and Fletcher had taken out orders of protection, barring Amy from having any contact with them, the fake texts were enough to get Amy arrested twice (and nearly arrested a third time). Police didn't even bother to verify that the messages were coming from Amy's phone; Fletcher's increasingly hysterical stories were good enough for them.
Finney, the prosecutor who handled the case, defends the actions of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. "Once the order [of protection] was granted, the police had to enforce that order. They can't say, 'We don't believe you,'" he says.
But Amy can't help but see things differently. She made repeated trips to the police station, trying to explain that she hadn't sent the texts and that, in fact, she couldn't have sent them. The cops just told her it was a civil matter. Or that she should knock it off. Then they'd issue yet another warrant for her arrest.
The first time Amy was arrested was the day Barrale and Fletcher got an order of protection against her. She'd been summoned to court; she was hoping for a chance to prove her innocence.
Instead, Barrale and Fletcher pressed their sob story. The judge issued the order of protection. And then Fletcher's attorney stood up.
He said he had a warrant for Amy's arrest — she'd allegedly violated the temporary order of protection, in place pending the hearing, by sending nasty texts the night before.
While Amy's family members watched, aghast, her hands were cuffed. "I didn't get to say goodbye," she recalls. "When they said, 'Yes, there is a [warrant], they cuffed me behind my back and led me away to jail." She wasn't released till nearly 6 a.m.
That morning, she worked to track down court paperwork then met with an attorney. But after her brother-in-law dropped her off at home, two police cars came flying down the alley, blocking him in.
An officer grabbed Amy by the arm, cuffed her and shoved her into one of the cars. He kept demanding to know where her cell phone was. She said she only had one; it was inside, and he was free to look at it. She knew there were no messages on it.
Meanwhile, her brother-in-law tried to plead her case to a different cop: "She's been with me all morning. She just got back from her attorney's office. She's not doing this." It was only after her attorney got on the phone that the police grudgingly let her go.
The fact that Amy's own lawyer vouched for her whereabouts should have sent up red flags. But the police continued to believe Fletcher and Barrale as they filed a barrage of complaints. Knowing there were warrants for her arrest, Amy moved into a cheap hotel room — then crashed on a friend's couch in Illinois.
She felt she had no choice.
"To be falsely accused, falsely arrested — I've had one speeding ticket my entire life," she says today. A pretty 46-year-old with strawberry-blond bangs, her eyes well up as she relates her story. "Anybody who knows me knows this is not my character."
Despite her precautions, Amy was arrested one more time. Once again, it was a long night in jail — fourteen hours. Her family was forced to post a $3,500 cash bond.
But soon after her second arrest, police began to crack the case. After Fletcher filed complaints with Clayton, too, Clayton Police Detective Julie Marlow actually bothered to trace the phone from which the nasty texts began. And she learned a startling fact: It was registered to Angela Fletcher's own mother.
When Marlow confronted Fletcher with that fact, Fletcher suddenly — for the very first time — claimed her purse (and phone) had been stolen.
The very next day, Fletcher announced that she was going to withdraw her complaints.
But it was too late; the Clayton police had become highly suspicious of the supposed victim. When they administered a lie detector test, Amy passed. Meanwhile, Fletcher began dodging Detective Marlow's calls. (Through credit-card records, police were eventually able to prove that Fletcher purchased the second phone used for the nasty messages, too.)
In November, the St. Louis city circuit attorney's office brought charges of harassment, making a false report and making a false declaration against Fletcher.
Fletcher was found guilty at a jury trial last month. In a court filing, assistant circuit attorney Finney notes that, after the jurors agreed on Fletcher's guilt, they deadlocked on her punishment. Everyone agreed she should get jail time and the maximum fine allowed under law — but some demanded eighteen months in jail and others, one year. She'll now be sentenced by the judge, likely later this month.
This was Finney's second trial as an attorney. A recent graduate of Saint Louis University School of Law, he was hired by the circuit attorney's office just after passing the bar last fall. He believes the case shows that the system works: "Though the system may have kinks, it does work. It did in this case. The right outcome happened."
Still, he says of Amy, "This was literally a living nightmare. It's everyone's worst fear — to be framed for something you didn't do."
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