Sandra Goulet didn’t want to own a gun, and didn’t even feel comfortable living in the same house with one.

But two days after Thanksgiving last year, Goulet, accompanied by two relatives, stood in the Windham Weaponry showroom, four firearms laid out before her, puzzling over how to proceed.

Goulet was terrified and exhausted. She had been for the last six months. The reason: Norman J. Strobel Jr., her boyfriend of nearly a decade.

Although she broke off the relationship in July and received a court order of protection, Strobel wouldn’t leave her alone. Since he was released from jail a week earlier, he had already called her 50 times.

As she pondered the guns in the Windham store, her phone rang. She showed the screen to her daughter, Alyssa, and Alyssa’s boyfriend, Jason Almeida.

“Is that him?” an employee asked Goulet. “Yes,” she said.

She signed up for a seven-hour firearms training course the next day.

But before she ever made it to her class, Strobel stormed back into her life in a hail of gunfire, seriously wounding Almeida and killing another man before dying in a shootout with police.

His violent last act fit a lifelong pattern of abuse and manipulation of women. Strobel’s first marriage collapsed after he sexually assaulted his mother-in-law, then threatened to kill his estranged wife if she didn’t return to him. In two relationships between 1991 and 2001, Strobel assaulted the women after they broke up with him. Goulet, his most recent romantic relationship, was victimized by Strobel in 2010, when he choked her while intoxicated during an argument.

To the people who knew him, Strobel was obviously dangerous, yet each new criminal charge against him resulted in minor jail time. His strategy was simple: Cut a deal with prosecutors, plead guilty quickly and do minimal jail time. Don’t give the cops or the courts a reason to probe deeper into his criminal history. And it worked.

In the wake of Strobel’s rampage, legislators are looking for ways to plug the holes in the justice system that Strobel exploited, enhance penalties for repeated offenses and ensure that police in the future perform the due diligence that can help Maine judges make more informed decisions to prevent future violence.

GOOD LOOKS AND CHARM

What Norman Strobel lacked as a child – a stable family life, money, a good education – he made up for with good looks and charm.

Strobel was born March 13, 1957, to Ellen Lunn and Norman J. Strobel Sr. and raised in the Oakland Beach section of Warwick, Rhode Island. His early family life was chaotic, according to his first wife, Cathy Iannotti. Strobel left high school after ninth grade, and his mother’s relationship with his father appeared not to last. She eventually had more children with other men.

Iannotti was a childhood friend and grew up a few blocks away. Although they were still kids, Iannotti’s infatuation with Strobel was almost instant.

The relationship turned physical as soon as Strobel hit puberty. When Iannotti was about 10, she remembers Strobel, then 13, putting his hands down her pants in her mother’s backyard.

Cathy A. Grant – now Cathy Iannotti, 56 – poses with Norman J. Strobel Jr. on Oct. 30, 1984, before a black-tie political fundraiser in Warwick, R.I. Iannotti, who was married to Strobel and had two children by him, says she and her own mother were victims of Strobel's sexually violent behavior.

Cathy A. Grant – now Cathy Iannotti, 56 – poses with Norman J. Strobel Jr. on Oct. 30, 1984, before a black-tie political fundraiser in Warwick, R.I. Iannotti, who was married to Strobel and had two children by him, says she and her own mother were victims of Strobel’s sexually violent behavior. Photo courtesy of Cathy Iannotti

“I didn’t take it as being sexually assaulted or nothing,” Iannotti said. “I was in love with him at a very early age, being a little kid.”

Their paths crossed again in 1984. Iannotti, then 24, was out with friends at a nightclub in Rhode Island when she bumped into Strobel.

Strobel had been engaged to another woman a few years earlier, but their relationship ended in tragedy in 1981 when a drunken driver swerved in front of Strobel’s motorcycle, according to news accounts. Strobel’s fiancee was thrown from the motorbike and died of massive internal injuries. Strobel broke both legs, both hips and suffered internal organ damage, and was hospitalized for weeks.

Strobel and Iannotti immediately started dating, spending evenings at nightclubs and restaurants, Iannotti said. Strobel had been awarded a cash settlement from the crash that helped fund their lifestyle.

“He was one of the most handsomest men who walked in Warwick,” said Iannotti, 56. “I couldn’t wait to see him.”

They partied together, too. Strobel’s drug of choice was cocaine, which made him insatiable. He would chase her around the house, demanding sex, Iannotti said.

Strobel’s criminal history also began around this time.

COOL UNDER PRESSURE

In a dozen indictments, police alleged that starting around 1983, Strobel was the ringleader of a group of teenage boys from the neighborhood. He would buy them booze and drugs, and in return, the teens carried out robberies, including a brutal home invasion in which a 71-year-old woman was nearly killed.

A police photograph of Don's Exxon station in Warwick, R.I., after it was robbed on March 4, 1984. Two years later, a jury found Norman J. Strobel Jr. guilty of conspiring to commit the robbery, among the first of many convictions in a violent past.

A police photograph of Don’s Exxon station in Warwick, R.I., after it was robbed on March 4, 1984. Two years later, a jury found Norman J. Strobel Jr. guilty of conspiring to commit the robbery, among the first of many convictions in a violent past. Photo courtesy of Rhode Island police

His arrest on the charges made local headlines.

Strobel was attending a black-tie political event with Iannotti in October 1984 when a team of police officers, led by Coventry Police Detective Thomas K. Jones, descended on the restaurant hosting the gala. During the arrest, Jones fired a warning shot. The crowd of well-dressed donors panicked. Strobel filed a lawsuit against Jones, alleging excessive force.

Although Jones was cleared of wrongdoing, the lawsuit was a distraction.

To undermine Jones’ credibility and portray Strobel as a victim, his attorney argued that Jones would do anything to pin the robberies on Strobel, Jones said.

Jones, now 73 and a private detective, said he had never encountered someone as cool as Strobel under pressure. Even after hours of interrogation, Strobel seemed genuinely convinced of his own innocence.

After the jury began its deliberations, Jones noticed that a young woman in her 20s who had been an alternate juror returned to the courtroom and sat with Strobel and Iannotti until the verdict was returned.

“He woos this girl, as an alternate juror, without using words. Just by looks!” Jones said. “How the hell do you get an alternate juror after they’re excused by a Superior Court judge in a case involving horrific crimes, coming right back and sitting down with the guy I arrested? It’s unbelievable. If this guy wanted to take his intelligence and his charisma and his charm and his good looks, and put ’em in a business atmosphere, the guy would have been a multimillionaire.”

The jury cleared Strobel of all but two counts of conspiracy to commit robbery, and he was sentenced to 2½ years in prison.

He married Iannotti, then pregnant with their first child, before reporting to the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institute, the first of many stints behind bars.

A LIFE IN AND OUT OF JAIL

After Strobel was released from prison in 1988, he moved in with Iannotti, who had been raising their daughter, Marissa. Iannotti worked as a bartender and Strobel owned his own dump truck and worked construction, and later ran a one-man limousine service. The couple had a second child, Norman J. Strobel III, and lived next door to Iannotti’s mother on Ryan Avenue in Warwick.

Although he was a doting father, Strobel continued to use cocaine and chase other women.

At least two attempts at drug rehab didn’t stick. He started smoking crack, too, and raped Iannotti at least three times, she said.

“We were living together, married, and the sex thing was getting bizarre,” Iannotti said. “I couldn’t even walk by him. I would lock the door to go in the bathroom.”

During one of his cocaine-fueled episodes, Iannotti left to stay with her sister. Strobel went next door to Iannotti’s mother.

When her mother stood up to leave, Strobel pushed her down and forced his hands down her pants, Iannotti said.

She went to the police, and Strobel was indicted on first-degree sexual assault in September 1991. He faced life in prison.

But Iannotti’s mother didn’t want her grandchildren to grow up without a father. Without their only witness, prosecutors cut a deal: Strobel pleaded no contest and received a 10-year suspended prison sentence, a decade of probation and was ordered to undergo counseling.

It was a lucky break, but Strobel’s behavior did not change.

In 1995, he was arrested after he assaulted a woman he had been dating, according to court records. When he was arrested, Strobel said he didn’t think the relationship had ended.

“Strobel told me he was a man, not a punk, and did not punch her, he merely slapped her,” a police officer wrote.

He pleaded no contest to charges of attempted breaking and entering and domestic violence assault.

Before he was sentenced, the victim wrote a letter to the judge, saying he had never hit her before, and she was sure he was sorry.

He was sentenced to two years of a 10-year sentence followed by eight years probation, and ordered to receive counseling for domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse.

‘I’M AFRAID FOR MY LIFE’

When he was released, he was arrested again for violence against another woman.

This time, although the victim told police Strobel grabbed her breast, he was charged only with simple assault. His legal strategy was the same. He pleaded no contest, received an additional year of probation and paid $93.50 in court costs.

Three years later, in 2001, Strobel approached an ex-girlfriend, Kirsten Jones, in a bar, looking to get back together.

“I told him, ‘Leave me alone, I don’t want a relationship anymore, stop calling my house every day, it’s over,’ ” Jones said, according to a police report.

Jones left but Strobel followed her. While on the street, he put her in a headlock and choked her. When she fell to the ground, he punched and kicked her in the head, Jones told police. She was so injured she could not write and sign the police report herself.

Strobel cut another deal. He pleaded no contest to domestic violence assault, and was sentenced to five years in prison, with all but one year suspended. He was also ordered – again – to undergo domestic violence counseling. It is unclear whether he completed the mandated batterer’s intervention program. Before his release, Strobel told the court he didn’t know he had to attend, and he couldn’t afford it anyway.

Jones was never notified of Strobel’s sentencing deal. She wanted to tell the court how Strobel’s assault changed her life, but never got the chance.

“I wanted to at least tell the judge what happened – how he beat me, how I’m afraid for my life with this man on the street,” she told the Providence Journal. “When he’s out, I know I’ll never go anywhere alone.”

STROBEL’S LAST RELATIONSHIP

Norman Strobel’s relationship with Sandra Goulet was his longest.

Goulet said she met Strobel around 2007 in Rhode Island, and they moved to Maine together about two years later, sharing a ranch house on State Park Road in Casco.

Strobel was good to her at first, but his health and behavior began to deteriorate. Goulet became the main breadwinner. Strobel stopped working and descended deeper into alcoholism. Police were called in 2010, after Strobel called 911 to report that a neighbor had shot at him as he drove his truck near their home.

When officers arrived, they could see two figures in the window, locked in a struggle. “Stop choking me, get your hands off me. Stop choking me,” Goulet was heard saying. Photos from the encounter show Strobel left red marks on Goulet’s neck and shoulders.

Strobel was arrested and charged with domestic violence assault, a misdemeanor.

On the arrest forms, officers indicated that Strobel had no criminal history in Maine. No one bothered to check for out-of-state convictions, which can only be done from special computer terminals at the police station.

Strangulation has since been reclassified in the Maine criminal code as a felony, after choking was identified as a predictor of domestic violence cases that lead to death. But in 2010, Strobel faced only a misdemeanor, and deployed his old strategy. He pleaded guilty to one count of simple assault and paid a fine.

‘WAITING FOR A BOMB TO EXPLODE’

Goulet finally ended their relationship on July 1, 2016, and filed a protection from abuse order against Strobel on July 5.

She told the court that Strobel was a convicted felon in Rhode Island with a history of domestic violence, and that he had purchased a handgun in a private sale, although she did not know where it was hidden.

But no one at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office ran an out-of-state criminal record check, known as a “triple-I” – shorthand for Interstate Identification Index – report. Had they run the report, deputies would have found Strobel’s convictions for sexual assault and domestic assault in Rhode Island, as well as descriptions of charges against him that did not result in convictions, which would have painted a more complete picture of Strobel’s behavior for a judge.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said he did not know why no one ran the triple-I. Usually those records are pulled only in serious criminal cases, he said, and there is no policy mandating when police should run them.

“Usually, you run triple-Is on a criminal case, and (the deputy) was just serving paperwork,” Joyce said.

In the same court order for protection, a judge ordered Strobel to relinquish any firearms, but Strobel denied having guns. To search the home, deputies would have had to apply for a search warrant or obtain consent from Goulet. They did neither.

Although police are required to run triple-I reports on all domestic violence assault and domestic violence threatening cases, Strobel was not charged with those crimes. The protection order is a civil process, so the requirement was never triggered.

On July 20, 2016, when he was supposed to appear in court for a hearing on the protection order, he went to Goulet’s home, where he was arrested for violating the protection order, a misdemeanor.

Strobel dodged another safeguard designed to flag high-risk domestic violence offenders.

Since 2015, Maine police are required to use a risk assessment tool, called the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, to determine whether someone accused of domestic violence assault is likely to commit another.

But Strobel was not accused of domestic assault in July 2016, and the risk assessment was never triggered. Strobel pleaded guilty, served a five-day jail sentence and was released.

On July 28, a neighbor saw Strobel go to Goulet’s home.

Again, he was arrested.

A judge recommended Strobel wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, but Strobel refused, Goulet said.

At his sentencing Sept. 9, Goulet was out of state and could not attend, but she wanted someone in the court to hear what Strobel had cost her. She fired off a detailed letter via email to a county employee.

“My nerves are shot, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells, waiting for a bomb to explode,” she wrote. “I can no longer live in this type of situation. I will either have some type of medical event or he will carry out his ‘promises.’ ”

Although the letter was received on the day of the sentencing hearing, it was not presented to a judge, according to Mary Ann Lynch, a spokeswoman for the Maine Judiciary.

“(The letter) was date stamped on that date, but we do not know what time it was received at the courthouse, or when it was placed in the case file,” Lynch said in a statement. “The District Attorney did not bring it to the attention of the court on that date.”

Strobel pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve 40 days of a 120-day sentence. He was also sentenced to two years’ probation, and a batterer’s intervention program.

Despite having just been sentenced several days earlier but apparently not yet in jail, Strobel was rearrested on Sept. 16 after he violated the protection order by calling Goulet the day before. He pleaded guilty to that charge Sept. 19 and was sentenced to serve the remaining 80 days of his earlier sentence, along with a suspended 364-day sentence for violating the protection order again.

IN NAPLES, STROBEL DIES VIOLENTLY

Accounting for good behavior, Strobel served 60 days. He was released Nov. 19, about a week before Thanksgiving, and started calling Goulet again.

According to Iannotti, Strobel also called their son, Norman J. Strobel III, a bar manager in northern New Jersey. He told him that he – the father – was going down and would take other people with him.

Iannotti called the sheriff’s office in Maine to report the remarks on Nov. 22. A sergeant called the younger Strobel, who denied the remarks. The sergeant then spoke with Iannotti directly, who confirmed that Strobel was suicidal and dangerous. It is unclear if the sheriff’s department took action as a result of the call, and Joyce would not say whether his department took those statements seriously.

The next day, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Strobel broke into Goulet’s home in Casco and stole her dogs.

Goulet spent Thanksgiving with Alyssa Goulet and Jason Almeida, who were visiting from Middletown, Rhode Island.

But after Thanksgiving, Goulet, still frightened of Strobel, went to stay with a friend, while Alyssa Goulet and Almeida went to a family cabin a couple of miles away in Casco.

Shortly before 11 p.m., Strobel and another man, who police believe was Richard Diekema, showed up at the cabin. Someone pounded on the door. Strobel fired several shots through the cabin window, hitting Almeida multiple times. Alyssa Goulet was unharmed.

Sheriff's tape cordons off the house at 73 Songo School Road in Naples on Monday, November 28, 2016. Police say Richard Diekema was shot and killed early the previous morning by Norman Strobel inside the two-bedroom mobile home.

Sheriff’s tape cordons off the house at 73 Songo School Road in Naples on Monday, November 28, 2016. Police say Richard Diekema was shot and killed early the previous morning by Norman Strobel inside the two-bedroom mobile home. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

During a five-hour search for Strobel, he called Goulet and said he thought he had killed Alyssa and her boyfriend.

After finally tracking Strobel using his cellphone location data, a half-dozen sheriff’s deputies approached a run-down trailer on Songo School Road in Naples, less than three miles from Goulet’s home, owned by Diekema, a bachelor and small-engine mechanic who met Strobel when they were both in jail in September, according to Joyce.

From the window, police saw Diekema sitting in a chair, bleeding. When officers burst inside, Strobel opened fire, and police fired back, killing him. They discovered Diekema already dead, apparently shot by Strobel.

LAWMAKERS WANT TO ADDRESS GAPS

Strobel’s story is being held up as a lesson for law enforcement and the judiciary.

Several investigations are underway by state agencies into Diekema’s killing, Strobel’s shooting, and whether the judiciary followed policies and best practices during its prosecution of Strobel.

Lawmakers are preparing bills to address some of the obvious gaps in the system that let Strobel get out of jail on relatively light sentences.

State Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, D-South Portland and the former executive director of Family Crisis Services, has submitted legislation to ensure that out-of-state criminal background checks are standard in more cases, and to ensure that bail commissioners, police and prosecutors share that information more seamlessly.

“(Strobel’s) criminal history in Maine was not as horrific as it was in Rhode Island, and because of that, he wasn’t viewed (as harshly) by either the prosecutors or the judiciary because they didn’t have the information,” Reckitt said. “So the judges were kind of going blind when they had this guy.”

Domestic violence advocates, however, say solutions must go further than closing legal loopholes. Society’s attitudes about the seriousness of domestic violence also need to change.

“We have got to get past this idea that domestic abuse, domestic violence is uncommon, is isolated, and somehow it’s the victim’s fault,” said Francine Garland Stark, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “We all need to understand that domestic violence is a pattern of coercive controlling behavior over the course of time. It’s not isolated incidents of violence.”

Reckitt wants Maine legislators and law enforcement to rethink their approach to prosecuting and stopping domestic violence, and is urging a re-evaluation of how to address domestic violence as a pattern of criminal behavior, not as isolated incidents.

“That sort of has been my clarion call for 20 years,” Reckitt said. “I haven’t gotten anybody to pay attention to it.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:
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