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Thursday, July 29, 2004 · Last updated 9:35 a.m. PT

Zeta-Jones takes stand in stalking case

By GILLIAN FLACCUS
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

 photo
 Welsh actress Catherine Zeta Jones arrives for the 76th annual Academy Awards in this Feb. 29, 2004 file photo, in Los Angeles. Zeta-Jones took the stand for more than 3 hours Thursday, July 29, 2004, at a preliminary hearing in Los Angeles regarding the numerous death threats she had received from Dawnette Knight, who was arrested on June 3 at her Beverly Hills apartment. (AP Photo/Chirs Pizzello)

LOS ANGELES -- Catherine Zeta-Jones, known for her poise and glamour, strained to hold back tears as she described her fear after receiving death threats from someone promising to "slice her up like meat on a bone."

"I've never in my life had anything or had anyone say anything to me so satanic," the Oscar-winning actress testified Wednesday. "I can't even imagine how a sane human being could have these images locked in their brain."

One letter promised, "We are going to slice her up like meat on a bone and feed her to the dogs." Another letter had Zeta-Jones' picture on the front and opened to reveal an "obituary."

Zeta-Jones, 35, testified for more than three hours during a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to order a trial for the accused letter writer, Dawnette Knight.

Knight, 32, was arrested June 3 at her Beverly Hills apartment after authorities linked her to letters and phone calls. She was charged with stalking and 24 counts of making criminal threats, and was held on $1 million bail.

Knight apologized last month in a letter claiming she had been infatuated with Zeta-Jones' husband, actor Michael Douglas.

Testifying before his wife, Douglas said Zeta-Jones had a hard time keeping emotional control because she felt she was a "marked person."

Douglas, himself an Oscar winner, said one letter described the inside of a home where the couple once lived. "There was a knowledge in these letters that was deeply unsettling," he said.

Defense attorney Richard Herman said outside court that Knight had been upset by a tabloid report alleging an affair between the actress and actor George Clooney, a co-star in the upcoming film "Ocean's 12."

"That upset my client and she wrote her telling her to stop," Herman said.

The letters were not sent directly to Zeta-Jones, who won her Academy Award for the 2002 musical "Chicago." Her movie star father-in-law Kirk Douglas received a letter, as did journalist Barbara Walters and Zeta-Jones' agent.

Zeta-Jones testified that her security was increased dramatically after she learned of the letters in March.

The actress said she had a severe anxiety attack after two violent phone calls were made May 18 to her hotel in Amsterdam, where she was filming "Ocean's 12." She was in constant fear while filming scenes on city streets and wondered if the letter writer was in the crowds, she said.

"I knew that I had to try to hold it together somehow," Zeta-Jones said. "I had a major motion picture under way."

Herman said the actress didn't read most of the letters until after Knight was arrested and said having Zeta-Jones read them in preparation for the hearing was a "setup for the prosecution."

Zeta-Jones read from 19 of the threatening letters Wednesday. Some suggested she would be chopped into pieces "like Sharon Tate was" in the 1969 Manson Family killings, and referred to the violent deaths of President Kennedy and Nicole Brown Simpson.

California's anti-stalking laws date to 1990 and followed such attacks on celebrities as the 1989 murder of TV star Rebecca Schaeffer and the 1982 stabbing of film actress Theresa Saldana.



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