Actress prepares to confront 'stalker'
|Catherine Zeta Jones. PA Picture|
CATHERINE Zeta Jones came close to suffering a nervous breakdown after an obsessed stalker singled her out as a "marked person" and threatened her with death, a court was told last night.
The Oscar-winning actress was so terrified by the murder threats, sinister telephone calls and even a mock invitation to her own funeral that she was forced to seek medical help and take sedatives, according to her husband, the actor Michael Douglas.
"She was hysterical. She was fainting. She could not get any air," Douglas, 59, revealed as he testified before a judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court. "She showed all the signs of having a nervous breakdown."
Zeta Jones was last night due to follow her husband onto the witness stand, bringing her face to face for the first time with Dawnette Knight, 32, who allegedly terrorised her for more than a year.
Knight, who is unemployed and studying to be a child psychologist, has pleaded with the celebrity couple to forgive her and drop the 25 charges against her, saying she was driven only by a "girlish crush" on the actress’s husband of four years and never intended following through on the threats.
But there was no sign of pity as Douglas spoke of the horrifying effects that Knight’s alleged hate campaign had inflicted on his wife.
"She just felt that she was a marked person. She was having a difficult time maintaining emotional control," he recalled, as Knight sat a few feet away.
Knight’s letters, some of which were sent to Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas, Zeta Jones’s father-in-law, contained personal details such as a chillingly accurate description of a hallway inside one of the actress’s five homes.
The couple were left feeling shocked, frightened and vulnerable. Their fears were compounded when an anonymous caller rang an Amsterdam hotel in which Zeta Jones was staying while shooting scenes for a new film, Ocean’s Twelve, and pledged she would be killed.
Douglas, who said he was so concerned for his wife’s safety at the time that he arranged for extra security measures to be put in place, said the stalker had displayed a worrying level of knowledge about Zeta Jones’s life and her movements.
"The proximity made us terrified. There was a knowledge in these letters that was deeply unsettling," he admitted, clearing his throat nervously several times as he addressed Judge Patricia Schnegg.
Knight faces a maximum penalty of 19 years in jail if convicted. Yesterday’s hearing was held to determine whether there is enough evidence to send the case to full trial.
Despite Knight’s actions, her lawyer, Richard Herman, has insisted that she deserves a second chance, saying she has learned a valuable lesson that will make her "a good woman and a major asset to society". During cross-examination, he asked Douglas if he was aware that female stalkers are rarely dangerous, causing the prosecutor, Debra Archulta, to liken the scenario to the plot of one of the celebrity witness’s most famous films, in which a woman becomes violently obsessed with a married man.
"Isn’t that the premise of a movie called Fatal Attraction?" she cut in. Spectators in the courtroom laughed and Douglas offered a wry smile.
The campaign against Zeta Jones, 34, began in January 2003, though the couple only learned of it in March when a threatening telephone call was made to a hotel in Bermuda that Douglas part-owns. The caller muffled her voice and hissed at an operator: "You let Michael know we are going to kill his wife, kill that bitch."
Douglas did not mention anything to his wife at first, worried that it would "upset her tremendously". But after calling in police, he discovered that his father had already received a number of poisonous letters bearing similar warnings.
As the letters grew increasingly menacing, Zeta Jones panicked. "She was very afraid for herself and her family," Detective Teresa Garrett told the court during an earlier hearing.
The most chilling of the more than 14 missives was made up to look like a funeral invitation bearing a picture of the Swansea-born actress. "Obituary - Mrs Catherine Zeta Jones. Goodbye to the solemnised. Time: ASAP. Place: Catholic church in Wales," it stated.
In another, the writer pretended to be John Leslie, the former Blue Peter presenter who once dated Zeta Jones. "You need to let Catherine know if she hurts Michael, I will hire someone to kill her - she will be taken care of ASAP," it read.
Kirk Douglas, 87, and his wife, Anne, were left shaken by the notes, one of which told them: "We really want to get [Zeta Jones] when she is by herself, or maybe when she is on location. She will be dead before the blink of an eyelid."
One note was spelled out using letters cut from a newspaper and which purported to be from Abi Titmuss, Leslie’s one-time girlfriend. "We will kill Catherine soon," it threatened.
Another was sent while the actress was pregnant with her second child, Carys, and falsely asserted that Zeta Jones had been having an affair with her Ocean’s Twelve co-star, George Clooney. "I hope you know that the baby Catherine is carrying is not Michael’s," Kirk Douglas read when he opened the envelope. "It’s George Clooney’s - just wait and see."
Knight was arrested at her home in the upmarket district of Beverly Hills last month and is being held on $1 million (£550,000) bail.
In a letter penned from her holding cell following her arrest, Knight explained: "I was a confused young woman infatuated with Michael Douglas and have no rational explanation for my actions. It would be a wonderful good deed if you could all forgive me."