The long story of Dennis Markuze (aka “David Mabus”) did not end today, as expected. We had expected him to be sentenced in his second guilty plea. This was the plea to threatening both myself and a Montreal Police officer, and violating his previous plea agreement to refrain from posting on social media and Internet forums.
Instead, his sentencing hearing was called off at the last minute – and in an unusual twist I got the word of this literally while I was talking about the case live on an online webcast!
The hearing today was presaged yesterday by a very interesting article in the Montreal Gazette by Paul Cherry, who has been following the case for some time. (I am quoted in the article).
The article points out that Markuze has nodded in agreement and admitted to his crimes while in front of the judge on multiple occasions. That includes the threat made at the time of his second arrest, quote: “You bitch. The same thing will happen to you like what happened to the (World Trade Center) twin towers in 9/11.” Markuze has never disputed any of this in court.
But does Markuze truly believe his own plea? Cherry gives reason to doubt.
In yesterday’s article, Cherry reported:
Outside the courtroom he tells a different story. He disputes most of the details contained in the summary, especially the quote about the World Trade Center. And since pleading guilty in May he has insisted, twice, to a Montreal Gazette reporter that his rights, as outlined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, were violated by the court order to abstain from posting on social networks. During a break in his most recent hearing in November, Markuze handed a Montreal Gazette reporter a document, which he referred to as an affidavit that, he said, tells his side of the story.
“The charges laid on me are based on hearsay and conjecture. I am being charged for my controversial ideas, not for any offence,” Markuze wrote. “The condition to not debate on forums is a direct violation of my fundamental human rights. This condition must be removed. I’m a writer who engages in debate with the power of words, not force of arms.”
This is no surprise to anyone who has seen his online postings since the second arrest. Using the pseudonym “Arnold Ruge” (one of many he’s used over the years) Markuze has posted a similar “affidavit” alleging his rights are being violated. At one point last year he contacted several bloggers and podcasters (including Martin Robbins and Emery Emery) in an attempt to get his side of the story told. None took him up on it, mostly because it became clear that Markuze did not actually want to be interviewed, but merely wanted a broadcast platform to spew more of his spam.
Last night on Virtual Skeptics I was discussing the latest in the case based on yesterday’s news article. Literally while I was on the air talking about the case, I got an email notification from the police detective. She did not give details of course, but told me the hearing for today was cancelled “in light of the new information” that had been received. At the time I guessed it was the aforementioned contradictions in Markuze’s testimony in the article.
But earlier today we learned the truth in a follow-up article by Paul Cherry.
The sentence hearing for a man who threatened people online and then ignored a court order by further harassing one of his victims has been delayed because a psychiatrist wants to testify in the case.
So a surprise witness has emerged – perhaps in response to the article? Cherry told me he did not know. But the report continues:
The lawyers involved were prepared to make a joint sentencing recommendation in November but it was put off because Boyer had handled several other cases that same day and ran out of time to hear the recommendation. The hearing was rescheduled to proceed Thursday but the judge was informed that a psychiatrist at the Jewish General Hospital has asked to testify in the case before Markuze is sentenced.
This is actually good news, I suppose. Many of the preceding court proceedings seemed to gloss over the possibility that a mental disorder might be playing a major role in Markuze’s behavior. It will be good for the judge to hear some direct testimony on this issue.
So instead of resolution this week, we are kept waiting again. Ironically, it was almost exactly four years ago that Markuze began his months-long campaign of abuse and harassment on Twitter, which resulted in his arrest in August 2011. You can read the details in that (long) post, but the TL;DR version is: He was known for years prior as a persistent email spammer against skeptics and atheists, but largely regarded as a crank and a nuisance. Then, on Twitter he crossed into true harassment territory, repeatedly promising beheadings and other violence. This led to his arrest and prosecution (but only after a dogged campaign by the victims to get the Montreal authorities to take action) and thereon to his first guilty plea in May 2012.
The condition of that plea required him to stay off social media and internet forums – something he violated almost immediately. It took additional months of campaigning to get the court to recognize that violation, which then resulted in his second arrest in November 2012. It was at the time of that arrest that he verbally threatened both myself and the arresting officer. The sentencing that was supposed to happen today is from that arrest – that’s two years and two months we’ve been waiting for this resolution.
According to today’s article in the Montreal Gazette, the court has set June 3, 2015 to hear the testimony of the psychiatrist, and then sentencing can presumably proceed. So we have yet another wait of several months to get some resolution.
Meanwhile, I’m sad to report that Markuze has resumed posting his spammy tirades. I’ve received reports from at least four skeptic-oriented Internet forum sites that have spotted him in the last few weeks. (Fortunately, he’s not yet been spotted on Twitter. Coincidentally, the CEO of that service was quoted this week saying they need to get better at dealing with harassment of this sort. Let’s hope they do so before Markuze returns).
So, once again, stay tuned. The story continues in June.
You can watch me discuss the case on last night’s Virtual Skeptics episode, and see the exact moment when I got word today’s hearing was cancelled – it’s at exactly 40 minutes into the episode.
I hope this isn’t getting too off-topic here, but this may be of general “behind the scenes” Internet interest.
I read that Twitter CEO article, and while I applaud the idea of getting rid of trolls, I was wondering how it could possibly be done with the huge volume of messages posted on Twitter.
Then I remembered hearing about how Facebook does it, and found the Marketplace story. This also links to a more in-depth Wired article that the Marketplace announcer said they “couldn’t say the title of” because of a word it uses (think of the Wil Wheaton catchphrase). Perhaps more disturbing than the language is the actual content that gets filter out, and that the people who do it are effectively working in a 21st Century sweatshop:
Yes, I read that article – it’s really frightening what those contract workers get exposed to! I do suppose that Twitter will have to look at doing something like that.