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FEDERAL LAW PROTECTING ABUSED SPOUSES GETS TEST HERE

A former U.S. Border Patrol agent Wednesday became the first person prosecuted in Western New York under new federal laws to protect abused spouses.

Prosecutors said the laws on domestic violence were designed to stop people like George Popson Jr., who appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carol E. Heckman to answer three federal felony charges for threatening his estranged wife, now living in West Seneca.

Popson, 35, of El Paso, Texas, last April threatened that he would kill his estranged wife's entire family by torching their homes and forcing her to watch.

"If you don't give me another chance, there will be a tragedy . . . You are going to lose everything you care about," police accused him of telling the woman. "I'll make you watch all of it. You will be a spectator."

Then, although he promised a judge he would never again contact the woman, police said Popson traveled thousands of miles on a bus from Texas and showed up in the woman's driveway in West Seneca.

He was charged with illegally crossing state lines and illegally bringing a firearm with him while violating an order of protection.

"In the past, if an abused spouse had an order of protection in one state and she moved to another state, she'd have to get a new order of protection," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Mehltretter. "That's the problem that is addressed by the new laws.

"The laws were enacted in 1994 and 1996, and so far about five other people have been prosecuted on these charges throughout the country."

When West Seneca police arrested Popson at his wife's home Sept. 24, they learned he had spent two days on a bus from El Paso, and then rented a car in Amherst. After the arrest, police found a loaded gun in the rental car, parked about a block from Popson's wife's home, Ms. Mehltretter said.

"A judge in West Seneca filed an order in August, saying Mr. Popson was allowed to have no contact with his wife of any kind -- even through phone calls, mail or a third party," Ms. Mehltretter said. "And Mr. Popson agreed to abide by the order."

But one of his attorneys, Kenneth P. Bernas of West Seneca, said Popson is a law-abiding man who is distraught over the downfall of his marriage and the loss of his Border Patrol job.

Popson is also distraught because he has had little or no opportunity to spend time with his infant son, who is a few months old and lives with his mother, Bernas said.

"I think we just have a case of a love affair gone bad, and a man who misses his wife and child very badly," Bernas said. "He was no threat to his wife or his child. If he ever was going to contact his wife, it would be in terms of saying, 'I'm sorry for what happened. Let's try to be friends.' "

Bernas represents Popson on the case filed by West Seneca police. John Humann of the Federal Public Defenders office represents him on the federal charges. Humann said he had just learned of the case and could not comment.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms and the FBI.

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