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US actor is jailed for ‘persistent’ harassing of Irish woman over three-year period

• Yesterday 18:50

An American actor who harassed an Irish woman over a three-year period has been sentenced to two years in prison, with the final year suspended.

Stephen Spenneberg (55) of Oakshire Drive, Los Angeles, California, was sent forward on a signed plea from the District Court for harassing a woman on dates between May 10, 2020 and January 3, 2023.

Passing sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today, Judge Orla Crowe described Spenneberg’s harassment as “unwanted, unwarranted, persistent and repeated” and noted that it had had a “profound impact” on the woman.

Judge Crowe said that “like so many Irish students”, the woman had travelled on a J1 visa to the United States in 2003.

The court heard that the woman had formed a brief romantic relationship with Spenneberg during which they exchanged contact information, but that on her return to Ireland, she told him she no longer wished to continue their relationship.

However, Spenneberg, who was living in Los Angeles, continued to contact her directly and indirectly by various means including phone, email and social media. The woman complained to gardaí, who told Spenneberg to stop contacting her.

Judge Crowe said Spenneberg was told “clearly and unequivocally” by third parties including the gardaí and Kentucky police, on several occasions, to stop contacting the woman, but that he persisted.

The woman blocked him from all her social media accounts and changed her contact details, but Spenneberg changed his account name and made further contact.

Garda Shauna Ferncombe gave evidence that Spenneberg emailed the woman on May 10, 2020 asking her to appear on his podcast with a view to promoting a project she was involved with. The court heard the woman received two voicemails, one email, two Instagram friend requests and one message on social media during 2020, asking her to unblock an account from Spenneberg.

The woman also made a report to gardaí on June 17, 2022 about a voicemail from Spenneberg on June 13 in which he said he had lost his job and asked her, “What he was waiting for?” Gda Ferncombe confirmed she listened to the voicemail, in which Spenneberg also said he was “desperate,” adding, “Desperate people do desperate things.”

Spenneberg came to Ireland on December 31 last year and went to a commercial premises connected with the woman’s family in Munster. He made enquiries about her and spoke with her parents. The court heard when the woman’s father asked him what his business was, Spenneberg walked away.

Spenneberg was arrested on January 7 this year at a location in the south of the country. He has been in custody since.

When interviewed, Spenneberg told gardaí he wasn’t inclined to stop, as he wanted to hear from the woman herself that she didn’t want any further contact. He told gardaí he didn’t take their calls seriously as it seemed “insane” that an international police force would contact him. He said he would have stopped all contact if the woman had told him directly to stop.

Spenneberg told gardaí that he thought some of the woman’s social media posts were a way for her to contact him without other people knowing. He accepted he had tried to contact her on several social media platforms.

He has no previous convictions in Ireland.

A victim impact statement was handed into the court, but not read aloud.

Gda Ferncombe disagreed with a suggestion put forward by Kieran Kelly BL, defending, that Spenneberg was “chivalrous” in going to speak with the woman’s family.

Spenneberg told gardaí he visited the Wild Atlantic Way and Dublin between December 31 last, the date of his arrival in Ireland, and his arrest on January 7. Gda Ferncombe said she was not aware if Spenneberg made any attempts to contact the woman during this period.

Gda Ferncombe disagreed with Mr Kelly’s suggestion that Spenneberg was motivated by a “genuine” belief to see if there had been something “worth re-kindling” between the woman and himself. She also didn’t accept that his voicemail to the woman could be interpreted in other ways.

Mr Kelly said his client regretted his actions and was now aware that there was no prospect of a relationship with the complainant.

Mr Kelly said there was “no malicious intent” behind Spenneberg’s actions, but rather a “misdirected perception” and that he was sorry. A letter from Spenneberg was handed to the court.

Counsel said Spenneberg has described himself as “pro women” and “pro feminism”. Spenneberg has a career as an actor and a podcast host. He also worked as an entertainer in Disneyworld and Seaworld, the court heard.

Judge Crowe set a headline sentence of three years but reduced this to two years with 12 months suspended, on the basis of mitigating factors, including Spenneberg’s guilty plea and the fact that he would be in custody far from home.

The sentence was backdated to January 7 of this year.

Spenneberg was ordered to stay away from and have no contact, directly or indirectly, with the injured party, on a permanent basis, by any means whatsoever.

He was further ordered to stay away from her family, friends, co-workers and professional cohort, and not to publish or upload any photos or details pertaining to the woman, including her name, address or any identifying details.

The final 12 months of the sentence were suspended for a period of three years.

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