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Press Association
Sat 31 Jul 2004
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12:48am (UK)
Lawyer Blames Zeta-Jones for 'Stalker' Suicide Bid

"PA"

A Los Angeles judge has ordered a psychological evaluation for a woman accused of stalking Oscar-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones at the request of a defence lawyer who claimed outside court that the star had driven her to attempt suicide.

“Catherine Zeta-Jones has driven Dawnette Knight to attempt suicide and the real blood is on her hands,” lawyer Richard Herman told reporters at the 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 defence.

Knight, who wrote numerous letters threatening Swansea-born Zeta-Jones, is accused of one count of stalking and 24 counts of making criminal threats. She is being held on £650,000 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 said in a letter released by her lawyer that claimed she had been infatuated with Douglas.

The hearing was also halted on Thursday, when the defence attorney said his client was still groggy after taking sleeping pills because she wanted a good night’s sleep.

But yesterday 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 said 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 lawyer said: “Nothing further” and walked away.

Earlier, Herman and the prosecutor, Debra Archuletta, conferred with the judge in chambers for about 25 minutes.

The lawyers 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 on Wednesday night, was unable to participate in her defence 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 defence.

“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 defence lawyer had said his client just needed some sleeping pills and did 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 was found competent, the parties would return to court on August 16, but that due to holidays, the preliminary hearing would resume in September.

Zeta-Jones and Douglas were not in court yesterday.

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