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Posted on Mon, Aug. 23, 2004

Mrs. Michael Douglas is not worth 19 years

Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT) - I can't imagine what it's like to be a world-famous celebrity whose face is recognized on four continents, who is stalked by paparazzi and people who just know you'd marry them if only you got to know them.

So I can't imagine what Catherine Zeta-Jones felt when a woman reportedly obsessed with her husband, actor-producer Michael Douglas, allegedly began torturing her with letters and phone calls.

But consider Dawnette Knight, a 33-year-old unemployed woman who spent 18 months reportedly harassing Zeta-Jones, threatening to "kill her and feed her to the dogs."

Knight was arrested at her Beverly Hills apartment in June, jailed in lieu of $1 million bail because prosecutors consider her a flight risk. Scott Peterson was a flight risk. Knight, according to her attorneys, is a woman who is sorry.

Still, she is charged with one count of stalking and 24 counts of making criminal threats. She could get 19 years in prison.

Nineteen years.

I feel for Catherine Zeta-Jones, loved her in "The Mask of Zorro." But that potential jail sentence got me. It's one thing to be a sad "Fatal Attraction" wanna-be who has the hots for a 59-year-old fading actor. It's one thing to send people horrible letters telling them you want to cut them up for dog food. But doesn't someone answer Zeta-Jones' mail and phone? And why aren't those kinds of prison terms reserved for real crimes?

Consider people who have done horrible things in America, yet walk free.

Is 19 years fair when actress Rebecca Gayheart walks free? Three years ago, she mowed down a 9-year-old boy, Jorge Cruz Jr., while he was walking home from school. Several cars stopped to let him cross the street outside the crosswalk, but Gayheart swerved around the traffic and hit him. She pled no contest to a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge, paid for his hospital and funeral expenses, lost her driver's license for a year and paid a $2,800 fine. She did lose all her TV commercials and magazine ads, but that sentence wasn't handed out by the courts.

Is 19 years fair when Kenneth Lay, the former head of Enron, is walking around?

Is 19 years fair when O.J. Simpson celebrated his dead wife's murder anniversary in June by doing TV interviews?

Is 19 years fair when Martha Stewart gets to spend half her sentence walking around her house - five months in prison and five months wearing a "we-know-where-you-are ankle bracelet?

Dawnette Knight, if she did what the Douglases say she did, was wrong, so wrong.

Knight, if she did what the Douglases say she did, sat in her Beverly Hills apartment and made a total jerk of herself. But she has apologized, according to a letter obtained by the Los Angeles City News Service, saying she considers herself a "confused young woman infatuated with Michael Douglas."

People who have ruined thousands of lives, murdered their spouses, killed children or violated securities laws, have gotten better deals.

When Knight faces trial and sentencing, I hope the jury has a sense of measure, of priority, of common sense. If former NBA star Jayson Williams can get away with shooting his limo driver and his dog, then surely Knight can get justice.

I hope her jury is smarter than that, and please, don't let them be "Zorro" fans.


(Rochelle Riley is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Write to her at the Detroit Free Press, P.O. Box 828, Detroit, Mich. 48231.)


© 2004, Detroit Free Press.

Visit the Freep, the World Wide Web site of the Detroit Free Press, at

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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