Defense: Actress Drove Defendant To Attempt Suicide
Jul 31, 2004 8:12 am US/Central LOS ANGELES(AP)A judge Friday ordered a psychological evaluation for a woman accused of stalking Catherine Zeta-Jones at the request of a defense attorney, who claimed outside court that the actress had driven the defendant to attempt suicide.
"Catherine Zeta-Jones has driven Dawnette Knight to attempt suicide and the real blood is on her hands," attorney Richard Herman told reporters at the downtown criminal courts building.
The accusation came after Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg suspended the preliminary hearing for Knight, 32, to have an evaluation of whether she is competent to assist in her own defense.
Knight, who wrote numerous letters threatening Zeta-Jones, is accused of one felony count of stalking and 24 felony counts of making criminal threats. She is being held on $1 million bail.
Zeta-Jones and husband Michael Douglas testified earlier this week at the hearing, which will determine whether there is enough evidence to put Knight on trial.
"We are going to slice her up like meat on a bone and feed her to the dogs," said one letter read in court by Zeta-Jones.
Last month Knight issued an apology for the threatening letters. She claimed in a letter released by her attorney that she had been infatuated with Douglas.
The hearing was also halted on Thursday, when the defense attorney said his client was still groggy after taking sleeping pills because she wanted a good night's sleep.
But on Friday he said it was an attempted suicide by an overdose of barbiturates.
"This case has turned into Hollywood against Dawnette Knight and it's not a fair fight," Herman told reporters outside court.
Referring to the letter of apology, Herman said his client had asked for forgiveness.
"Instead of forgiveness we have seen a campaign of vilification in the media which is both mean-spirited and vicious," Herman said.
After accusing Zeta-Jones of driving his client to attempt suicide, the attorney said, "Nothing further," and walked away.
"We are shocked and outraged that the victim in this case, Catherine Zeta-Jones, is being portrayed in this manner," prosecutor Debra Archuleta said in a statement. "We believe these statements by defense counsel to be inappropriate."
A Zeta-Jones publicist said the actress had no comment.
Earlier, Herman and the prosecutor conferred with the judge in chambers for about 25 minutes.
The attorneys then returned to the courtroom, where Herman asked for the suspension.
The judge requested more details about Knight's mental state.
Herman said Knight had taken barbiturates Wednesday night, was unable to participate in her defense and needed an evaluation.
"Yesterday it was two sleeping pills," the prosecutor interjected.
The judge then questioned Knight directly.
"Do you know why you are here," the judge asked.
"Yes, ma'am," Knight said.
"Why?" the judge asked.
"Because of the letters I sent to the Douglases," Knight said.
The judge asked her if she was able to participate in her own defense.
"He says I can't so obviously I can't. He's my lawyer," Knight said.
The judge asked Knight if she understood that suspending the hearing would not end the case but would result in a battery of psychological tests. Knight said she understood.
Herman complained that a request for an evaluation would normally simply be granted.
The judge said the prosecution had turned over press clippings in which the defense attorney had said his client just needed some sleeping pills and does not have mental problems.
The judge told Herman it was an unusual situation, and he said, "I've reconsidered that and I'm concerned overall about my client's health."
The judge said that if Knight is found competent, the parties will return to court Aug. 16, but that due to vacations, the preliminary hearing would resume in September.