George Lardner Jr., an investigative reporter for the Washington Post -- working in his office on a Saturday -- was about to be dragged into the pit of a parent's worst nightmare. "I was getting some things together for a trip," he said. "The phone rang, I picked it up and all I heard was sobbing. It was my daughter Helen. She shouted at me, 'Dad come home right away.' I could hear my wife Rosemary crying in the background. I said 'What's wrong?' Helen finally said, 'It's Kristin, she's been shot and killed.'

"I found it difficult to believe," Lardner said in a recent interview on National Public Radio. "I told myself it was a mistake. Kristin had lost some of her ID -- someone had taken it some weeks earlier -- and I thought it was just a case of mistaken identity. You grope for all sorts of things when something like that happens."

But disbelief turned to horror as the story unfolded. His daughter, Kristin Lardner, an art student at Boston's Museum School, had been dating a man named Michael Cartier. Cartier became abusive and beat her in a Boston alley. Kristin refused to see him after that -- and even tried to help him get counseling -- but his threats continued and he stalked her.

On May 30, 1992, shortly after Kristin obtained a permanent restraining order, Cartier accosted her near her workplace and asked her to go out with him. She refused, and as she walked away, he shot her in the head. She fell to the sidewalk. Cartier ran away, but returned a short time later and shot her twice more, then went to his apartment and killed himself.

JUSTICE SYSTEM INDICTED

Lardner, grieving and stunned by the murder of his daughter, began to investigate Cartier's past. What he found was a man with a three-page arrest record. A man who -- even though convicted of multiple offenses and four felonies, who repeatedly beat women, violated restraining orders and conditions of probation -- had somehow managed to avoid all but a few months in jail. At the time he shot Kristin, several agencies had reports of Cartier's violations of probation. He should have been in jail.

Lardner's research disclosed a confused non-system of blind, deaf and uncommunicative justice agencies operating without full information. "The isolation of different parts of the justice system from one another, their persistent, almost primitive failure to communicate," said Lardner in his book, The Stalking of Kristin, "became apparent with Cartier's release. We are inundated with talk these days about the information superhighway, but the justice system is still running on dirt roads."

And Kristin, unfortunately, was not an isolated case. In the state that year, she was number 19 in the tally of women and children murdered in domestic disputes.

"The system failed her in more ways than I can count," Lardner told Government Technology. "She wasn't the same girl he was on probation for beating up -- you only get sentenced for robbing the same bank." So, while Cartier played the justice system to his advantage, the system made it easy.

CRIMES UNPUNISHED

At the time of the murder, Cartier had already violated a temporary restraining order. Kristin reported it to authorities, and expected him to be arrested when he appeared at the next hearing, which was to grant her a permanent restraining order. The court did nothing, and then it was too late.

At one time, Cartier was seeing three different probation officers in three different Massachusetts cities. After a long string of felonies -- including breaking and entering, burglary, malicious destruction of property and injecting his own blood into a restaurant catsup dispenser with a hypodermic needle -- he was finally sentenced to six months in