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ZETA'S NIGHTMARE

By DAVID K. LI Post Correspondent
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July 29, 2004 -- LOS ANGELES Catherine Zeta-Jones appeared in a thriller of a different type yesterday facing down the woman who allegedly stalked her, threatened to "slice her up like meat on a bone" and drove her to "an emotional breakdown."

Testifying in a preliminary hearing against Dawnette Knight, whom police said mailed violent death threats, Zeta-Jones remained composed even when instructed by the prosecutor to read the letters into the record.

"We will kill Catherine Zeta-Jones soon!" read one letter, dated Feb. 11, that Zeta-Jones recited.

The 35-year-old Welsh actress likened the letters to terrorism.

"It's very hard to understand why someone would write more and more and personally terrorize me personal terrorism that's changed my life," she testified.

None of the letters was mailed to Zeta-Jones, but were addressed instead to her friends, family and her father-in-law, Kirk Douglas. One was even sent to Barbara Walters.

"This has affected my whole family, my 87-year- old father-in-law, my children, my nannies, my staff," she said. "It will affect me for the rest of my life."

Earlier in the day, Michael Douglas testified that the death threats against his wife caused her to suffer "an emotional breakdown."

"She was hysterical," said the 59-year-old actor. "She was fainting. She could not get any air. She showed all the signs of having an emotional breakdown."

In a question-and-answer session with L.A. County Deputy DA Debra Archuleta, Douglas echoed his wife's testimony that the "extremely violent" letters made the couple feel "like we had to look over our shoulders all the time."

Douglas said the threats reached an emotional zenith in May, when Zeta-Jones was in Amsterdam to film "Ocean's Twelve" and received telephone threats at her hotel.

During her testimony, the ravishing Zeta-Jones, who wore a conservative but form-fitting black dress, shot daggers at the 32-year-old defendant, who was charged in June with 25 counts of stalking and making criminal threats.

She read parts of all 22 letters. The note to Walters was the most graphic: "When we finish with this bitch/whore, she will not be this pretty face actress. You won't be able to recognize her in her cassket! [sic]"

Another letter was disguised as a simulated funeral program.

"The bitch never did a good deed," it said. "Thanks for nothing, you Welsh bitch . . . whore gold-digger."

Another letter added, "She will be dead before she'll be able to blink an eye. Michael can finally be happy with his kids when the bitch is dead."

One letter, dated Oct. 2, 2003, mailed to Kirk Douglas, read:

"You need to let Catherine know that if she hurts Michael, I will hire people to kill her whore ass. If she loves life, [tell her to] treat Mike right."

Michael pointed to that letter as particularly ghastly. He testified that his ailing father didn't immediately tell him about the letters he'd received in an effort to shield him from the graphic threats.

"He's 87 years old and he was trying to protect Catherine and myself," Douglas said. "I was concerned about the stress this was putting on him."

The preliminary hearing will allow L.A. County Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg to rule whether there's enough evidence to try Knight.

According to court papers, other letters are even more horrific than the ones Zeta-Jones read yesterday.

"[She] will be shredded to pieces like Sharon Tate," one of them read, referring to the actress murdered by the Manson "family" in 1969. And Knight allegedly threatened she was going to "slice [Zeta-Jones] up like meat on a bone and feed her to the dogs."

Knight allegedly promised, in another letter, an even bigger Hollywood crime "the biggest murder that's going to occur in entertainment history."

Knight kept her right hand over her face during most of Douglas' testimony.

Douglas said he did not recall meeting Knight until a golf tournament in Las Vegas, where he saw her walking directly toward him.

"She was hyperventilating a little bit and her behavior was a bit strange. She was wiggling," Douglas said.

Defense lawyer Richard Herman said Knight has a "girlish crush" on Douglas and is not capable of violence.



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