Maureen O’Boyle petitions to keep her rapist behind bars

I knew Maureen O’Boyle and I had a few mutual Facebook friends. But I was still stunned when an enlarged photo of her face wearing a grim expression popped up on my Facebook wall on Friday. I had just been mindlessly scrolling through posts. And this didn’t look like the Maureen I was accustomed to seeing from afar on red carpets at nonprofit events — wearing a dazzling smile and a sparkling dress — or bold, confident clips of her on air as a WBTV anchor.

But I quickly saw why: A mutual friend had shared a petition created by Maureen through that was captioned with these words: “Keep James Starling, the man who raped me, and other women, behind bars for full sentence!”

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She had my attention.

I clicked the link and read the first lines: “It’s not easy to share such a personal trauma. However, I am starting this petition to protect other women and young girls from a serial predator and convicted rapist.”

Just because I was unaware of Maureen’s past trauma doesn’t mean she kept it a secret — her story was featured in a multi-page spread in PEOPLE Magazine in 1992.

But she gives all the facts in her own words in the petition she created. It was April 4, 1986 and Maureen was living and working in Georgia. She was stalked by this man for months, as he broke into her home repeatedly and stole underwear and moved items around. Then she woke up to him attacking her.

Maureen wrote: “My life flashed in a second. And all I could hear was, ‘I’m going to kill you and no one will ever find the pieces.'”

He tortured, photographed and raped her for hours.

But she survived. And Starling was caught and put behind bars. He became Georgia Inmate number 168978.

Now, he’s up for parole in April, with the risk of getting out 20 years before he has served his full sentence.

Enter: Maureen’s petition, which she plans to present to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. It hasn’t gone unsupported. Once she posted the petition to her professional Facebook page Monday night, the signature count escalated to more than 15,000. By Tuesday morning, she had more than 30,000 names.

By Wednesday: More than 45,000 signatures.

In a video she posted on her professional page, she said, “Please sign this petition. I will be going before a member of the board and I will be pleading with him not to release him back into society. He should serve every day of his 50-year sentence. My daughter and I would really appreciate your help.”

As for the ultimate number of signatures? There’s no goal.

Maureen told me: “I want as many as I can get! I’m just overwhelmed by the stories I’ve read. Sharing this has been incredibly heart-breaking in some ways. Post after post, message after message, women and men are telling me they too were victims. Some, many really, are signing because they feel they never got justice for their crime. That keeps moving me to tears.”

I signed because I think Maureen deserves to be heard.

Will you?

Photo: John D. Simmons/Charlotte Observer