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Zeta-Jones Describes Death Threats
LOS ANGELES, July 28, 2004
(AP) Catherine Zeta-Jones took the stand Wednesday and read from 19 letters containing violent death threats written by a woman charged with stalking the Oscar-winning actress.
The letters suggested Zeta-Jones would be chopped into pieces "like Sharon Tate was," and referred to the violent deaths of President Kennedy and Nicole Brown Simpson.
In a quavering voice, Zeta-Jones gave more than three hours of testimony during a preliminary hearing that will determine if there is enough evidence to order defendant Dawnette Knight, 32, to trial.
"I've never in my life had anything or had anyone say anything to me so satanic," said Zeta-Jones. "I can't even imagine how a sane human being could have these images locked in their brain."
Zeta-Jones, 35, testified after her husband, actor Michael Douglas, spent more than an hour on the stand describing the couple's ordeal.
Knight, who apologized last month in a letter that claimed she had been infatuated with Douglas, was arrested June 3 at her Beverly Hills apartment after authorities traced several letters and phone calls to her. She was charged with one felony count of stalking and 24 felony counts of making criminal threats, and was held on $1 million bail.
California's anti-stalking laws date to 1990 and followed such notorious crimes as the murder of young TV star Rebecca Schaeffer and the savage stabbing of film actress Theresa Saladana.
When not responding to questions, Zeta-Jones stared at Knight, who was handcuffed to a chair.
Zeta-Jones said she still lives in fear, despite the arrest.
"We are going to slice her up like meat on a bone and feed her to the dogs," one letter said. Another letter had Zeta-Jones' picture on the front and opened to reveal an "obituary" that listed the names of her in-laws, siblings, parents and children as Zeta-Jones' next-of-kin.
The letters with references to Tate — the actress who was a victim of the 1969 Manson Family killings — as well as Kennedy and Nicole Brown Simpson contained graphic details of how Zeta-Jones would be killed. Some letters also spoke of a plan that was 90 percent complete and of "missing her by five mins." in Rome, where Zeta-Jones had been filming an Elizabeth Arden commercial.
Defense attorney Richard Herman noted outside court that none of the letters was addressed directly to Zeta-Jones. He said Knight had been upset by a tabloid report alleging an affair between the actress and actor George Clooney, a co-star in the upcoming "Ocean's 12."
"That upset my client and she wrote her telling her to stop," Herman said.
Herman said the actress didn't read the bulk of the letters until after Knight was arrested and said having Zeta-Jones read the letters in preparation for the hearing was a "setup for the prosecution."
Zeta-Jones testified that she first learned of the letters in mid-March, when Douglas told her about them at the couple's Bermuda home. She said detectives showed her a few of the less-threatening letters, but she didn't see the more violent ones until after Knight's arrest.
"Michael looked at me and said, 'They're pretty bad, honey.' I know my husband and I know that look and I knew it was pretty serious," Zeta-Jones said.
After Douglas told her of the letters, the threats began to escalate, with staff members, friends and relatives receiving letters, she said.
In March, a Bermuda hotel the couple owns fielded two threatening calls. In mid-May, while Zeta-Jones was in Amsterdam filming for "Ocean's 12," the operator at her hotel took three calls that were "violent ... shocking to the phone operator," the actress said.
Zeta-Jones testified that she had a severe anxiety attack on her way to her home in Spain three days later. She felt faint, was sweating and shaking and had difficulty breathing, she said.
Zeta-Jones said the personal details in the letter — including her travel schedule, the names of her friends, relatives and her children's nanny and details about a former apartment — unnerved her.
"I didn't know where it was coming from," she said. "It seemed to be closing in on me and getting closer and closer to home and that in itself was horrific."
Earlier in the day Douglas testified that his wife "felt like a marked person" because of the threats.
"I've never received mail like this before," he said. "They're very graphic in nature."
If tried and convicted, Knight could face a sentence ranging from probation to 19 years in prison.
After her arrest, Knight wrote a letter of apology to Zeta-Jones, describing herself as "a confused young woman infatuated with Michael Douglas."
The letter, released by her defense attorney, asked for the couple's forgiveness so Knight could return to college and finish studies in child psychology.
Her fiance, Ronald Calvin, 44, said Knight had been enrolled at the University of Tennessee but dropped out several years ago, hoping to transfer to the University of California, Los Angeles. He said she never did.
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