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File image of San Diego, where the woman met Spenneberg when she was a student on a J1 visa in 2004. Alamy Stock Photo
San Diego

US actor pleads guilty to harassment of Irish doctor he met when she was on a J1 20 years ago

A bail hearing was told Steven Spenneberg constantly sent unwanted gifts and messages declaring his love to the woman he had last seen in 2004.

AN AMERICAN ACTOR pleaded guilty today to harassment of an Irish doctor almost 20 years after they dated for three weeks when she was a student on a J1 visa.

A bail hearing was told that for nearly two decades, Steven Spenneberg, 55, constantly sent unwanted gifts and messages declaring his love to the woman he had last seen in 2004.

However, they were unanswered, and the attempts at contact “escalated” to a threatening voicemail message and his arrival in Ireland when he turned up at her family home in Co. Cork on New Year’s Eve.

The out-of-work actor and radio broadcaster of Oakshire Drive, Los Angeles, was charged with harassing the woman, 40, who now lives in Dublin from May 2020 until 3 January this year.

He was refused bail last month and appeared before Judge Gerard Jones at Cloverhill District Court today when he signed a guilty plea to the charge.

He told his barrister Sharon Rossiter that he understood the charge against him and confirmed that he was pleading guilty.

Judge Jones then granted an order sending him forward for sentencing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, where the case will be listed on 16 March. Legal aid was granted.

Earlier, jurisdiction was refused, and it was held that the case should go to the higher court, which has broader sentencing powers.

At his first appearance last month, the district court heard the complainant spent years blocking his emails and social media messages.

She had told a bail hearing she was in fear that year that the accused left her a voicemail saying “desperate people do desperate things”.

Garda Shauna Ferncombe from Donnybrook station arrested the accused in Dublin and charged Spenneberg, who made no reply.

Voicing witness interference and flight risk concerns, Garda Shauna Ferncombe had said the woman met Spenneberg when she was on a J1 visa working in San Diego in 2004.

They had been in a three-week relationship when she was 21 and he was 35.

She returned in September 2004 to study medicine, and the accused allegedly began phoning and emailing, “declaring his love for her”.

The court heard that she never replied, but he kept sending messages by fax and social media on Bebo, MySpace, Instagram and Facebook.

She “blocked him on all platforms” and deleted her social media accounts due to the online harassment.

After she qualified and began working in a clinic in 2012, he allegedly went to “disturbing lengths to contact her through her job”.

The court heard it made her feel violated, embarrassed, exposed and threatened.

The court heard in 2015, he created a work email account and sent her a message titled “Explanation from me”. It was alleged that he fantasised about living with her.

The garda said it caused the woman distress and affected her career. Gardaí also contacted him to ask him to stop.

The court heard he constantly tried to make contact over social media.

It was alleged that in June last year, he left a voicemail saying, “I lost my fucking job, I can’t live here anymore, I’m fucking tired of this game”.

The court heard he also said he was desperate and “desperate people do desperate things”.

The garda said it “escalated”, and on New Year’s Eve, he flew from the US to Shannon and headed straight to her family home. Her mother asked if he had been the American contacting her daughter.

She suggested he visit the Western Way, which he did for two days, but gardaí later arrested him in Dublin.

The court heard that Spenneberg told officers that brought him closer to the complainant.

The garda believed he had a “romanticised fascination” and was “obsessed”.

The officer had said that the woman knew him for three weeks, but after nearly 20 years, he is a “complete stranger”.

Defence solicitor Brian Keenan described his client, who is single, as “desperate and lonely.”