By Julie Manganis
SALEM, Mass. — A well-known Salem witch admitted yesterday in court to attacking a rival business owner in downtown Salem last summer.
As a result, Laurie "Lorelei" Stathopoulos, 52, of 125 Essex St. will spend the next two years on unsupervised probation, after a Salem District Court judge continued charges of assault and battery and malicious destruction of property without a finding for two years.
"She's a bully," said Joanna Thomas, 39, who said she was punched and had her head slammed repeatedly against the window of her shop, New England Magic, on the afternoon of Aug. 13.
Stathopoulos is the owner of Crow Haven Corner. Both shops are on the same block of Essex Street just past the downtown pedestrian mall.
"There's a big history here," said Stathopoulos' lawyer, Scott Dullea.
Thomas, meanwhile, said she's felt harassed by Stathopoulos since opening her shop in 2005.
Long-simmering tensions between the two boiled over on that afternoon, as Thomas was outside her shop taking photographs of oil that had been poured on her front step.
As crowds attending a street fair outside milled about, Stathopoulos walked up to Thomas and slapped the camera out of her hand, witnesses told police.
Stathopoulos then grabbed the necklace Thomas was wearing and ripped it from her neck, began hitting her, and then struck Thomas' head against the glass window of her shop, prosecutor Jay Flynn told a Salem District Court judge.
Thomas' boyfriend, Karl Sirois, repeatedly warned Stathopoulos to stop, then used a canister of pepper spray, which finally ended the confrontation. (Sirois, who had a license for the spray, was charged with assault and battery but was cleared following a trial last month.)
Both Thomas, who suffered a concussion, and Stathopoulos, who had been hit by the pepper spray, were taken to local hospitals, and Stathopoulos was later summonsed to court.
Stathopoulos and a friend who was with her both claimed that she was acting in self-defense. Yesterday, she told the judge she was trying to protect her Chihuahua, though she admitted that the police report read in court by Flynn was accurate and that she had assaulted Thomas.
Witnesses, including several tourists, indicated that Stathopoulos had started the confrontation.
Thomas said that nearly a year later, and even with a civil harassment order against Stathopoulos, "I still feel harassed and threatened by her and her associates."
The attack left her not only physically injured, with a concussion that caused her to suffer nausea whenever she drove, but with emotional scars.
"I don't feel safe walking around Salem, and I love Salem," Thomas said, her voice choking up. "I don't understand why they do this to people."
Flynn urged Judge Michael Uhlarik to find Stathopoulos guilty and sentence her to two years of probation.
But Stathopoulos' lawyer urged leniency for his client, suggesting the allegations were exaggerated by someone looking to file a civil lawsuit (a claim Thomas and her lawyer disputed after the hearing).
Dullea said Thomas had called the police numerous times to complain about his client, claiming that Stathopoulos had poured oil on her doorstep.
In addition to unsupervised probation, Stathopoulos will have to pay $500 in court costs and a $90 victim-witness fee, as well as a $50-a-month probation fee for the next two years.
The judge ordered her not to have any contact with Thomas and her store, whether face-to-face or through social media, and added a specific warning about indirect contact through third parties, including the dozen or so witches who filled three rows in the courtroom yesterday.
If Stathopoulos stays out of further trouble during the next two years, the charges will be dismissed.
Dullea said outside court that there was "mutual provocation" that day and pointed to the large group standing with Stathopoulos.
"She's got the support of the Wiccan community," Dullea said. "It's a strong community filled with good people."
But Thomas doesn't share that view, saying she believes Stathopoulos brought the large group to court — as she has done throughout the case — to try to intimidate her.
"The nature of our business is spiritual," Thomas said, "and to have to deal with harassment and being assaulted intentionally by someone who considers it normal, business competition — well, it's not normal, it's not spiritual, it's criminal."
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.