When she took the witness stand in February, she appeared exactly as she is – a bright, professional and attractive woman with blond hair and an easy smile.
But as she told the jury about her experiences as the ex-girlfriend of now-convicted felon Michael McClellan, the years of fear and anxiety Dawn Hillyer endured became painfully evident.
Before the Allen Superior Court jury convicted McClellan of two counts of stalking, they heard a similar story from McClellan's ex-wife, Torrie Stiverson, and saw again the fear.
With the click of the handcuffs around McClellan's wrists moments after his conviction, both women say they felt safe for the first time in years.
Now, as McClellan begins a 10-year prison sentence, Stiverson and Hillyer are looking for ways to make their experiences count, to use this struggle to help others in similar situations.
Statistics say there will be others, and experts find the technology present in our daily lives makes it easier for stalkers like McClellan to insert themselves into nearly every area of a victim's existence.
"These things are unfortunately way too common," said Rebecca Dreke, senior program associate for the National Center for Victims of Crime.
About one in six women will be on the receiving end of stalking behavior, making its likelihood alarmingly great, Dreke said.
An altered life
When Stiverson and McClellan divorced after two years of marriage in the late 1990s, she said he began tormenting her almost immediately. When she went to the home they shared to pick up her clothing, he handed them to her in a garbage bag, soaked in bleach.
There were countless phone calls from payphones, impossible to trace, to her home and her work. He showed up wherever she was – the post office, the gas station, the store. After she remarried, McClellan threatened her husband, she said.
When she'd change her phone number, he would file a police report alleging Stiverson or her new husband committed some petty crime, like throwing a rock at his car, Stiverson said.
By filing the report, McClellan required the police to contact her or her husband. Sometimes Stiverson filed a report because McClellan was violating a restraining order.
Either way, the reports generated a wealth of information that McClellan could obtain.
"Right on it would be our phone number," she said. "They were giving out our phone number. He knows how to play the system and he's doing it, better than the police are protecting us."
McClellan's behavior drove Stiverson to radically alter her life.
She quit mentoring her "little sister" through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"I couldn't tell her, 'Hey I have this stalker and I'm not safe to be around,' " Stiverson said. "I just didn't know what he was going to do, and I was scared for my own life.
"I just felt very alone. I didn't have anywhere else to turn. I just hoped and prayed he went away," she said.
A full-time obsession
Hillyer said life is much better now that McClellan is locked up. But she still sees ways in which she has been changed by the experience.
She sits facing doorways, always needing to see what's going on. Once an optimistic and outgoing person, she's more guarded now.
Hillyer, then going by a different name, met McClellan on Match.com in 2004, and the two casually dated for a year or so. They broke it off in what seemed at the time to Hillyer in an amicable manner.
Eleven months later, McClellan resurfaced in her life. Nothing seemed off, at first, until she again cut off the relationship.
Beginning in October 2006, McClellan began calling and texting her hundreds of times a day. By the end of 2006, in spite of protective orders and repeated requests to stop, tormenting Hillyer became his obsession.
McClellan hacked her email account, sending sexually suggestive photos he found in the "deleted folder" to her work client list, which included the local Chamber of Commerce. He rerouted his emails through programs designed to hide his identity and location. He made computer-enhanced recordings of his voice, leaving threatening messages on her phones and those of her co-workers, according to testimony and evidence presented at his trial.
McClellan made false police reports when she tried to get him to stop, making it seem as if she was stalking him.
As Hillyer talks about it now, and as she testified during McClellan's February trial, her frustration and exasperation is still evident.
"I completely changed the way that I lived," she said. "Being someone's full-time obsession is more than a full-time job."
She changed cars, changed phone numbers and moved. He kept on coming, physically and electronically.
Her children couldn't play outside. She didn't venture out herself, avoiding even the grocery store. At his sentencing, Hillyer said she felt like she had been in a prison.
Time after time, Hillyer called police, badgered investigators and did everything she could think to do to get it to stop.
She jokes now that she felt like she was stalking the police to get rid of her stalker.
She felt alone, getting nowhere and without resources.
Hillyer contacted local media, national media and even the "Dr. Phil" show to attract attention to her plight and force action by the criminal justice system.
It wasn't until 2010 that it appeared McClellan would face serious criminal charges.
With McClellan behind bars for at least the next three years – his sentence could be cut in half with Indiana's sentencing credits for good behavior – Hillyer and Stiverson are restless to do some good with the hand they've been dealt.
A Christian, Hillyer believes God maybe let her go through the ordeal because she's strong enough to handle it, persistent enough to beat her stalker and determined to do something with the experience.
The case and his prison sentence were never about revenge, but rather holding someone accountable.
"I'm not going to show my children that it is OK to get treated that way," she said. "This was about him, needing to stop a bad guy."
Since McClellan's conviction, Hillyer has gone for walks in her neighborhood, got on Facebook, shopped at the grocery store and opened the front door to her house when she cleaned.
Hillyer feels empowered – the exact opposite of what she felt before.
She can't, or won't, contemplate what she may feel when he is released.
Deke, at the National Center for Victims of Crime, said unfortunately stalking victims may find the rest of their lives altered.
"We tell victims that safety planning doesn't stop just because they get prison," she said. "For the rest of their lives they are going to be looking over their shoulder, keeping a watch out."
Hillyer and Stiverson saw areas where the criminal justice system may need improvement when it comes to a relentless stalker like McClellan.
They found the police departments they dealt with to be overwhelmed by the limits of the law, as well as the intensity and nature of McClellan's behavior, which may not be unique.
"Nobody knew what to do," Stiverson said. "Nobody thinks that way. We couldn't hardly stay a step ahead of him, because we're normal people."
Advanced computer and Internet technology – and how much we all depend on it – makes it easier for stalkers and harder for law enforcement, Deke said.
"(Technology) gives them tremendous access, in the most horrendous way," Deke said, adding that the laws have not kept up with the technology.
Hacking into a computer, or email, gives stalkers access to all kinds of personal data, such as banking and social networking information.
"Then there's no place safe for that victim. Nothing was completely secure or safe because of all those things he did," Deke said.
Since the trial ended, Stiverson has been contacted by a woman who found herself in a similar situation.
"We don't want anyone to go through what we went through without help," she said.
Hillyer is eager to share her story, in any way that it can be useful.
The Journal Gazette does not publish the names of victims of certain crimes, such as child abuse and stalking, unless the victims elect to be identified. Both women wanted their identities disclosed for this story.
"Because I want to do something with this, I'm OK with people knowing it's me," Hillyer said. "I want to bring a voice to this."