29/07/2004 12:51  - (SA)  

Death threats haunt actress

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Los Angeles - Catherine Zeta-Jones read to a court excerpts from 19 letters containing violent mutilation and 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 John F Kennedy and Nicole Brown Simpson, the murdered wife of OJ Simpson.

"I knew there were many, many death threats against me," Zeta-Jones said on Wednesday. "I knew they were violent but I did not know they would be as satanic as this."

In a quavering voice, Zeta-Jones, 35, 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.

The actress testified after her husband, actor Michael Douglas, spent more than an hour on the stand describing the couple's ordeal.


Knight, who apologised last month in a letter that claimed she had been infatuated with Douglas, was arrested on June 3 at her Beverly Hills apartment and charged with one felony count of stalking and 24 felony counts of making criminal threats. She was held on $1m bail.

When not responding to questions, Zeta Jones stared at Knight, who was handcuffed to a chair.

The actress said she still lives in fear, despite the arrest.

The references to Tate - the actress who was a victim of the savage 1969 Manson Family killings - as well as Kennedy and Nicole Brown Simpson contained graphic detail of how Zeta-Jones would be killed. The letters also spoke of a plan that was 90% complete and said someone was always following the actress.

Defence lawyer Richard Herman noted outside court that none of the letters were addressed directly to Zeta-Jones and he claimed Knight had been upset by a tabloid report alleging an affair between the actress and George Clooney.

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

Douglas testified he felt shocked, frightened and vulnerable after learning that his wife received the threats.

'Difficult time maintaining emotional control'

"She just felt that she was a marked person," Douglas said. "She was having a difficult time maintaining emotional control."

The actor testified that the first threat that he learned of was a telephone call made in March to a hotel his family owns in Bermuda. He said he did not mention the call to his wife, fearing it would "upset her tremendously".

After discussing the call with authorities, Douglas said, he learned that his father had already received threatening letters directed at Zeta-Jones.

Douglas said he eventually told his wife about the threats and the two discussed whether they knew anyone who could possibly be behind them. At the request of investigators, Zeta-Jones also looked at the letters to see if she recognised the handwriting.

Zeta-Jones then went to Amsterdam to film scenes for the upcoming movie Ocean's 12, according to Douglas.

While there, the hotel where Zeta-Jones was staying received phone calls threatening her, he testified.

That awareness of where Zeta-Jones was, coupled with a letter that described the interior of a home where the couple once lived, showed that whoever was making the threats had access to a lot of information about them, Douglas said.


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