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Lawyer Seeks Freedom for Witt's Stalker

May 07, 1993|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — The attorney for a Westminster man convicted of sending threatening letters to Olympic ice-skating champion Katarina Witt asked a federal appeals court Thursday to free his client, now in custody at a psychiatric hospital.

Harry Veltman III, 48, a former crop duster, was sentenced last June to 37 months in federal prison. Veltman, who was found to be a paranoid schizophrenic, was placed in a psychiatric hospital in Minnesota so he could receive treatment for his mental disorders.

Federal Deputy Public Defender H. Dean Steward has appealed that sentence, and the case was formally submitted Thursday to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Federal prosecutors, who object to any sentence reduction, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The professional figure skater testified that the nude photos and obscene letters she received from Veltman made her fear for her life. Witt testified that Veltman also stalked her, once knocking on her front door at 3 a.m. to scream his love for her.

Steward said he believes that Veltman received a sentence that was too harsh because the case involved a celebrity. Veltman, he said, also is a victim of the heightened sensitivity in Southern California to stalking cases.

"The spotlight on this case gave added pressure to everyone involved to see that some heavy-duty (sentencing) took place here," said Steward, who came to represent Veltman only after he was convicted because Veltman insisted on acting as his own attorney during the federal trial in Santa Ana.

Veltman should be released under strict supervision to ensure continued psychiatric treatment, Steward said. The sentence should be reduced to an 18-month term, roughly the time Veltman has already spent in custody, he said.

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