A Stalker's Deadly Warning

Did Family Miss An Important Message?

Jim Malone, attorney for the Cleveland Clinic, says doctors did all they could, including taking an extra step to call the Chang family and tell them of Strothers' release.

But did that phone call send a mixed message? If the clinic discharged Strothers because they thought he was safe, then why did they feel an obligation to inform the Changs?

"We thought in view of the comments that he made and the kind of interaction he had with the Changs prior to the hospitalization, that it was only courteous and fair to let them know that he was being discharged," says Tesar.

But the Changs say that phone call led them to believe they no longer had to worry about Strothers.

"My dad told me they called and said, 'Hey, Scott is no longer a threat to your family,'" remembers Penny's sister, Joanne. "And with that little comment, my dad was very relieved."

But the hospital left out an important fact – their assessment of Strothers was only meant for the short term.

Did anybody tell the Changs that? Tesar admits they didn't but argues "Common sense would tell you that you don't know exactly what's going to happen three months down the line."

In retrospect, was that warning enough for the Changs? Tesar believes it's certainly an important point to consider.

Whether or not the phone call was an adequate warning became an issue at trial because of what happened next.

The Changs claim that phone call is the reason they didn't become alarmed when Strothers made contact again with the family. This time, it was in the form of emails.

"Everything that happened to Scott after that summer is all Penny's fault. She ruined his life for her own petty amusement," reads Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Mike Tobin, from one of Strothers' emails to the Chang family.

The angry, rambling emails, written in the third person, were sent to Penny, her brother, and her father -- but the Changs said they didn't find them threatening.

"I saw nothing dangerous in February email," says Penny's father. "Just complaining."

"I don't think they believed there was anything to worry about," says Malone. "But my word, what do you have to have happen before you become alarmed or concerned?"

One month later, just days before the murder, Strothers emailed the Changs again. This time, he sent a 60-page email. But the Changs didn't read the email, thinking they were simply more of Strothers' harmless complaints.

"I found nothing dangerous in the first few pages," remembers Penny's father. But had he read further, he would have been horrified. Buried within the 60 pages, Strothers laid out his plan to kill Penny.

"I would like to take a hammer and repeatedly smash her face in with it until her face is a soupy, bloody pulp and seeing how she enjoys going through life being unattractive," read Tobin from Strothers' emails.

"Scott's moral duty has been satisfied by just sending these messages. You can never say that you didn't know. You were given the opportunity. Remember that."

"I did the best I could with the information I had," says Reina Krell, the therapist treating Strothers right up until the murder. But Penny's father believes that a professional should have been aware of Strothers' intentions.

However, Malone says that since only the Changs knew about the emails, only the Changs could have prevented their daughter's death – by notifying the police.

Was it his strategy to deflect blame away from the hospital and onto the Changs?

"I don't believe they're responsible for the death of their daughter," says Malone. "But what I say is if that phone call had been placed, the Shaker Heights Police Department would have had this man off the streets very rapidly."

Now it's up to the jury to decide.

"If the doctor, the psychiatrist, looks at a patient and makes a decision about a treatment plan, or a discharge plan, and does that in so called 'good faith,'" says Malone, "then he's immune by law from the consequences of that decision."

After just two hours, the jury agreed. The Changs received nothing from the clinic or the doctors.

"I think it's extremely difficult to win a case against doctors and/or therapists," says Kaufman. "You got a lot of burdens to overcome. All the burdens are on us.

"We made our decisions based on what we thought were reasonable observations and interpretations of what we were seeing and it could well be the Changs were as well," adds Tesar.

But Dr. Chang still believes the psychiatrists could have done more. He's appealing the decision, hoping he can save someone else's child.

"Penny was killed. Nobody can change the situation," says Penny's father. "I like to show as many of psychiatrists 'Do your professional job carefully! Don't repeat such things!' We don't want this to happen again."

What advice would the Changs now have for a family in their situation?

"Take every little thing seriously," warns Joanne. "It's better to be extremely worried than to have this happen. So what, you're a worrywart. So what! You have a sister. You have a daughter."

Return to Part 1: To Catch A Stalker