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Zeta-Jones case dispersed
Saturday, 31 July , 2004, 11:47

Los Angeles: A judge on Friday ordered that a woman accused of stalking and sending death threats to actress Catherine Zeta-Jones undergo evaluation for mental competency.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg suspended criminal proceedings against Dawnette Knight, 32, after Knight took a drug overdose in a suicide attempt her jail cell. Her own lawyer told the court he now had doubts about her ability to assist in her own defense.

Previously, the lawyer, Richard Herman, had insisted that his client was a "normal young woman with no mental problems" who had simply made a mistake sending letters threatening to cut Zeta-Jones up and making threatening phone calls to places where the actress was staying.

But Herman claimed, in comments to reporters outside court, that Zeta-Jones was persecuting his client and driving her to commit suicide.

"What's actually happened is that Catherine Zeta-Jones has driven Dawnette Knight to attempt suicide, and the real blood is on her hands," he said to the dismay of prosecutors.

Deputy District Attorney Debra Archuleta said she was "shocked and outraged" that Zeta-Jones, the victim in the case, was being portrayed in this manner.

The judge heard testimony in a preliminary hearing on Wednesday from Zeta-Jones and her husband, Michael Douglas, on how upset the death threats made them. Schnegg was supposed to have ruled at the end of the hearing on whether Knight, an aspiring child psychologist, should stand trial.

With criminal proceedings suspended, the case is expected to be transferred to the Mental Health Courthouse in Los Angeles.

The judge told Knight she would face a battery of psychological tests, and warned that "these (criminal) proceedings do not go away."

Both sides are due back before Schnegg on Aug. 16, with the preliminary hearing likely to resume in September if Knight is is found mentally competent.
Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. Click for Restrictions

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