by Sarah Fenske
Amy's nightmare began with a weird phone call. It was July 10 of last year, she recalls, just after midnight.
The caller wasn't anyone she could identify -- and he began by leveling an accusation. She'd been sending death threats and sexually harassing messages to someone named Nick, he claimed. He told her a police officer was looking into it, and it needed to stop.
She was confused. "Nick who?" she asked.
As it turns out, the "Nick" in question was Nicholas Barrale, a former coworker at the Clayton store where Amy worked as a cashier. They'd been friendly -- they'd gone to happy hour with other coworkers and, once, a Cardinals game; she'd given him a few rides home from work. But that was it. He was seventeen years younger than Amy and, anyway, he was dating another cashier.
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.
And it wasn't until months later that the whole truth came out: She wasn't a liar, she wasn't crazy and she wasn't stalking Nicholas Barrale. That's when police determined that it had actually been Barrale's own girlfriend -- a divorced mom of three named Angela Fletcher and a cashier at the same store as Amy -- who'd sent the text messages in question.
Prosecutors say that Fletcher sent her own boyfriend, Barrale, 897 texts from two different phones: sexually violent, horrifically graphic text 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 -- often, in gruesome ways.
"My boys are going to make sure your fucking cunt pays for this," one typical string of texts read. "rape torcher and we are going to stab the bitch for sure she is going to die the most horrible humiliating death and i'm going to take the first stab after she is made to eat my pussy and sucks my boys dicks... the bitch is going to get ripped apart i will be there to make sure its done right."
So what was Fletcher's motive in sending the fake messages, then demanding the police take action against Amy? Clearly, she wanted to "get" Amy. Did she want her job? (Amy had a higher position at the store where the two worked as cashiers. She has requested that Daily RFT not name the store, since she still works there.) Was Fletcher, 37, worried that her 28-year-old boyfriend was interested in Amy?
Assistant Circuit Attorney Christopher Finney, who would eventually prosecute Fletcher for harassment, making a false report and making a false declaration, won't speculate on the motive.
But it's clear Fletcher wanted to make her fellow cashier suffer: She and Barrale filed no fewer than seven police reports, hoping to convince police in St. Louis (where they lived) and Clayton (where Fletcher worked) that Amy was out to have Fletcher raped and killed -- and claim Barrale as her own. Fletcher even filed a police report claiming that someone punched her while she was leaving home one day. "If [Amy] can't finish this, I will!" her assailant supposedly cried.
And because both Barrale and Fletcher had taken out orders of protection, barring Amy from having any contact from 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 police. "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 and her family can't help but see things differently. Amy made repeated trips to the police station near her house, trying to explain that she hadn't sent the texts and, in fact, couldn't have sent them. (At one point, she was actually in her lawyer's office when a stream of nasty texts came in.)
The cops just told her it was a civil matter. Or that they couldn't help. 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 wearing dress clothes and was hoping for a chance to prove her innocence.
Instead, Barrale and Fletcher pressed their sob story. Then Amy was given her chance to talk. "I told the judge I wasn't doing any of this," she says. The judge asked if she'd stay away from the couple. "Absolutely I will," Amy replied.
The judge issued the order of protection. And then Fletcher's attorney stood up, waving a piece of paper. He said he had a warrant for Amy's arrest -- she'd allegedly violated the temporary order of protection that had been in place pending the hearing, by sending nasty texts the night before.
While Amy's family members watched, aghast, her hands were cuffed behind her back and she was led away to jail. "I didn't get to say goodbye," she recalls. "When they said, 'Yes, there is a [warrant for my arrest], they cuffed me behind my back and led me away to jail."
In jail, she was placed in a tiny holding cell with fourteen women. (Two of them were lying on the floor, detoxing from heroin.) "I was dressed up; I haven't eaten," she says. She sat up all night: "There wasn't room to lay down. I wouldn't lay down anyway!" Given a chance to make a phone call, she was hysterical. "You have to get me out of here," she sobbed to her family. She wasn't released 'til nearly 6 a.m.
After a tiny bit of breakfast, she worked to track down court paperwork, trying to understand what she'd supposedly done and why there was a warrant for her arrest. Then she met with an attorney found by a family member. But after her family member dropped her off after the meeting, two police cars came flying down the alley, blocking him in.
An officer grabbed her 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 from her phone.
Meanwhile, the family member who bailed out Amy 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."
After someone got her attorney on the phone, the police grudgingly let her go.
"You'd better knock this shit off or you're going to be in deep trouble," one officer told her.
Later that night, Amy went to the police station near her house. Once again, she tried to plead her case; it wasn't her cell phone; she wasn't doing it. She explained how she'd been arrested, then cuffed again, showing them her red wrists. The officer asked if she wanted to file a complaint -- against the police.
"I said no -- that I needed their help," Amy says. "We thought they were going to be on my side."
Indeed, the fact that Amy's own attorney could vouch 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 out for her arrest and that she could again face the horror of a holding cell if police found her at home, Amy moved into a cheap hotel room -- then moved in with friends in Granite City. That gave her a 60-mile commute to work; her family had to take care of her elderly mother, with whom she lived.
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. Knowing she was due in court, with a warrant out for her arrest, her lawyer advised her to turn herself in. Once again, it was a long night in jail -- fourteen hours. Her family was forced to post a $3,500 cash bond.
But it wasn't long after her second arrest that police began to crack the case. It wasn't the St. Louis police; Fletcher had filed reports with the Clayton Police, too. And they were willing to investigate.
Clayton Police Detective Julie Marlow actually traced 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 called Fletcher in for an interview and confronted her with that fact, Fletcher suddenly -- for the very first time -- claimed her purse (and phone) had been stolen at work. Fletcher never filed a police report over the theft, and, as she admitted, at some point she got the phone back. But she stuck by her story: Amy had to have sent the texts, not her.
Not so coincidentally, the very next day, Fletcher called Detective Marlow and said she was going to contact St. Louis and withdraw her complaints. But it was too late; the Clayton Police had become highly suspicious...of Fletcher.
When they administered a lie detector test, Amy passed. Meanwhile, Fletcher began dodging their calls.
In November, the St. Louis city circuit attorney's office brought charges against Angela Fletcher, alleging she'd sent Barrale the 897 texts in order to set up her coworker, Amy.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Finney tells Daily RFT that investigators were able to pin down the final piece of evidence. Records from her workplace showed that Amy had been working all day on the date the second cell phone was purchased. Fletcher was not -- and, in fact, her credit card was used to pay for the phone.
Worst of all: Two minutes after the phone was fully activated, someone had used it to call Fletcher's dad -- and chatted away for nearly six minutes.
Fletcher had made excuse after excuse to Clayton investigators.
"She claimed her debit card was stolen, and that was used to purchase the phone," Finney recalls. "But there's not one report made to them about any stolen items. Not one report." Then she admitted she purchased the phone, but she never knew the number -- and it, too, had been stolen from her workplace. But there was never any report of that, either.
Fletcher was found guilty at a jury trial last month. In a court filing, 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 has showed no remorse whatsoever," Finney says of Fletcher.
This was Finney's second trial as an attorney. A recent graduate of the Saint Louis University School of Law, he was hired in September 2010, just after passing the Bar. And he believes it shows 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."
Amy declines to comment on whether she'll be suing the St. Louis police for their handling of the case. She does plan to be present at sentencing; she wants to tell her story.
In fact, she was there last week when Fletcher was set to be sentenced. But, as Fletcher's attorney explained to the judge that afternoon, Fletcher herself decided not to show up -- never mind that sentencing hearings are not optional for criminal defendants. She chose to keep an appointment with her hand doctor instead.
Fletcher was arrested this weekend and is now being held pending another try at sentencing. Finney is now asking for two years in jail, plus a fine of $2,200 to help repay Amy's court costs.
And as for Barrale? He's still dating the woman who sent him 897 nasty, violent, sexually graphic texts. He apparently testified to their ongoing relationship at trial. Fletcher's lawyer, however, is not standing by her side: After she failed to show up for her sentencing last week, he requested to be allowed to withdraw from the case. That request is still pending.