9 Investigates: Stalking laws and the challenges victims face getting protection

9 Investigates: Stalking laws and the challenges victims face getting protection

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A woman stalked— her life threatened.

"He would never stop. He would tell me that, 'I'll stop when I want to stop, and there's nothing you can do about it,'" Melanie Mills Johnson said.

Johnson fought back, but not without a lot of emotional pain and suffering. She said she keeps a file, hundreds of pages stick. She documented years of harassment from an ex-boyfriend after they broke up.

Content Continues Below

She said he threatened to kill her, tried to hack her Facebook and Instagram accounts, taunted her on social media and wrote to her friends using fake profiles to embarrass her.

"He wanted to have total control over my life and my mind," Johnson said.

Afraid for her safety, Johnson said she eventually uprooted her family from their Steele Creek home. She said every step, from getting a protection order to a misdemeanor stalking conviction was a battle.

"I knew that I had to make my story public and tell my friends and family what was going on because he was trying to destroy me," Johnson said.

Sherry Honeycutt represents stalking victims and works with the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

She said she is trying to help change stalking laws she says are outdated -- in large part, she says, because of social media.

"What they find when they get in court in the criminal justice system is a system that's not really set up," Honeycutt said. "We don't have laws that are really equipped to prosecute stalking cases on the basis of online social media speech, and I think that's really unfortunate."

This was the case for Brady Shackelford. After serving time in Virginia for stalking, he was convicted in Charlotte of stalking a woman he met once in 2015 at Myers Park United Methodist Church.

Court documents included public posts from Shackelford on Google Plus about the woman he said "God" chose to be his "soul mate." In several posts, he referred to her as his "future wife."

Shackelford was sentenced to prison for felony stalking, but this past March, North Carolina's Court of Appeals ruled his conviction violated his Constitutional right to free speech.

Exactly two months and five days after his release from prison, he was arrested again accused of stalking his neighbor in west Charlotte. Eyewitness News Anchor Blaine Tolison questioned him about it and he said, "I shall not speak of it."

UNC Chapel Hill law professor Shea Denning, who wrote about Shackelford's case, said it could affect future stalking prosecutions.

"It's a lot easier to regulate one-to-one communication," Denning said. "To the extent you are regulating speech and speech alone, that is always going to be an uphill battle."

Denning said to prevent constitutional challenges, stalking laws need to be updated.

"The first amendment is an important protection for all of us, just as the right to be free from harassment is an important protection," Denning said.

In Johnson's case, none of the evidence she collected was ever used in trial. Her stalked took a plea deal.

She said she believes until the law changes, victims are left fighting on their own.

"You have to protect and take care of yourself. Keep fighting," Johnson said. "Don't be embarrassed. That's when you become a victim, when you are afraid to tell your story."

In April, an amendment to the stalking law, House Bill 558, didn't make the deadline for vote in the General Assembly.

Victims' advocates said they are concerned the language in the bill is too broad, leaving victims unprotected.