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May 30, 1998

Defendant in Internet Torture Case Gets 15 Years


NEW YORK -- Ending a trial that gained attention because the victim met the defendant on the Internet, a state Supreme Court judge sentenced Oliver Jovanovic to a minimum of 15 years in prison for kidnapping and sexually abusing a young woman he met in a computer chat room.

After a three-week trial that ended in April, a Manhattan jury found that Jovanovic, 31, had imprisoned the young woman and tortured her over two days in November 1996. The defense had claimed that the encounter between the two was consensual. Friday, Justice William Wetzel of state Supreme Court in Manhattan said that Jovanovic, a Columbia University graduate student, had a sense of superiority and believed that "nothing in the world could stand in the way of his intellect and its promise."

"The defendant now must live a life in which his intellect is not a particularly prized commodity, his academic achievements of no great value, and his relationships will be face to face, not mediated by the Internet," Wetzel said. "He will have to look people in the eye and let them know who and what he is, day to day. His exploration of the nature of good and evil will be practical, not philosophical."

Wetzel sentenced Jovanovic to 15 years to life in prison for kidnapping, along with concurrent sentences for lesser charges including assault and sexual abuse. Jovanovic had faced a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

Jovanovic, extremely pale and dressed in a blue suit, made a brief statement before the sentencing.

"I am innocent," Jovanovic said. "I could not plead guilty to something I did not do."

The young woman, who was 20 at the time and attended Barnard College, testified that she agreed to go to dinner with Jovanovic after she had met him over the Internet and after extended correspondence by e-mail.

The woman, whose identity has been withheld because of the nature of the crime, testified that after bringing her to his Washington Heights apartment, Jovanovic tied her to a futon frame and tortured her for more than 20 hours. During several days of testimony and cross examination, the young woman said Jovanovic bit her, burned her with wax and struck her with a baton.

At the sentencing Friday, Gail Heatherly, the prosecutor, praised the woman's courage and said she agreed to testify because she knew that "Oliver Jovanovic was going to do this to someone else."

"This is a very dangerous person," Ms. Heatherly told Wetzel before the sentencing.

Ms. Heatherly said prosecutors were not allowed to introduce e-mail from Jovanovic's computer during the trial. She said the e-mail, and other evidence, showed that Jovanovic was a "controlling, manipulative sexual sadist."

Jack Litman, the defense lawyer, told Wetzel that the defense was also prevented from introducing evidence during the trial and said he would appeal the case.

"What occurred on that night was a consensual activity between two consenting adults," Litman said.

During sentencing, Wetzel criticized Jovanovic's supporters, defense lawyers and some members of the news media.

"If there is anything unique about this case, it is the fact that each and every witness, each and every assistant district attorney involved in the case, as well as many others, has been the object of unwarranted, vicious, personal attacks," he said. "No witness went unscathed, whether it was the victim, a detective, an eyewitness, or even a medical examiner."

During the trial, Wetzel, who kept a tight rein on proceedings, frequently clashed with Litman, who is noted for his aggressive defense tactics. Friday, the judge criticized the defense for conduct inside and outside the courtroom.

"Criminal cases should be tried in a courtroom, not on the steps of the courthouse, not at press conferences, and not on the Internet," he said. "While some would expect this behavior to influence the sentencing judge, I can assure you, Jovanovic, that true to my oath I have not taken it into account in determining the appropriate sentence in this case."

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