Thu 29 July, 2004 02:15
By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones was driven to the brink of a nervous breakdown by highly graphic death threats in letters and phone calls apparently made by an obsessed fan, her husband, Michael Douglas, has told a court.
Testifying at a preliminary hearing to determine whether Dawnette Knight, 32, should stand trial on charges of threatening and stalking Zeta-Jones for about 18 months, Douglas said the threats made his wife terrified and hysterical.
"She was hysterical ... hysterical. She was fainting. She could not get any air. She showed all the signs of having a nervous breakdown," the actor said during testimony as a prosecution witness.
Knight, an aspiring child psychologist, is charged with 25 counts of stalking and making criminal threats against Zeta-Jones, 34, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress as a murderous showgirl in "Chicago."
According to court papers filed by Zeta-Jones's lawyers on Wednesday, Knight made numerous threats to kill and maim the actress, including threatening to have her "shredded to pieces like Sharon Tate," the actress murdered by the Manson gang.
The court papers also quoted Knight as saying she would cut Zeta-Jones "up like meat on a bone and feed her to the dogs."
Prosecutors said Knight made the threats because she was obsessed with Douglas and wrote letters to friends and relatives of the actor and his wife declaring that she wanted to kill Zeta-Jones so she could be with Douglas. More than a dozen of those letters were sent to Douglas's 87-year-old father, actor Kirk Douglas.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg will determine at the end of the preliminary hearing whether Knight should be sent for trial.
Douglas, 59, said the letters Knight sent contained personal details, such as a description of a hallway in one of the homes the couple own. He added that at one point three threatening phone calls were made over two days to an Amsterdam hotel where Zeta-Jones was staying in May for the filming of the movie "Oceans 12."
Douglas said that at first he declined to tell his wife of the threats because he was afraid of upsetting her. But police insisted and Zeta-Jones was stunned and upset. She began to worry that they were written by someone who knew her and things reached a head after the calls to the Amsterdam hotel.
"She just felt that she was a marked person, (she) couldn't understand how they knew where she was," he said.
It was then that she began progressively showing physical signs that Douglas thought were of a nervous breakdown.
He said she flew from Amsterdam to join him in Spain and he immediately took her to a doctor. When she learned of Knight's arrest, Douglas said his wife broke down in tears of relief and happiness.
Douglas said the only time he saw Knight was at a golf tournament in Las Vegas where she walked directly toward him. "She was hyper-ventilating a little bit and her behaviour was a bit strange. She was wiggling," Douglas said.
Knight has written a letter apologising to the couple and said she would never have harmed anyone. Her lawyer, Richard Herman, asked Douglas if he knew that female stalkers were seldom violent and generally not dangerous.
At that point, prosecutor Debra Archulta said, "Isn't that the premise of a movie called 'Fatal Attraction?'"
People in the packed court burst into laughter and Douglas gave a wry smile at the mention of one of his best-known films, about a woman murderously obsessed with a married man.