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Zeta-Jones Testifies in Stalking Case

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Times Staff Writer

Oscar-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones took the stand against an accused stalker Wednesday, reading aloud from more than a dozen letters that threatened the performer with death and violent mayhem.

The letters, which prosecutors say were written by Dawnette R. Knight, 32, threatened such acts as chopping Zeta-Jones into pieces and shooting her in the head. Knight, who prosecutors say was infatuated with Zeta-Jones’ husband, actor Michael Douglas, has been charged with 25 felony counts of stalking and making criminal threats.

Zeta-Jones, who appeared in a downtown courtroom with her husband, told a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge that she was emotionally shaken by the threats, which also were phoned into hotels where she was staying.

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Her testimony came during a preliminary hearing to determine whether Knight should stand trial.

“I started to shake and sweat,” Zeta-Jones testified of her reaction when learning of the death threats. “I felt like I was about to faint. I had a tingling sensation in my arms, a burning sensation at the roof of my mouth.”

She said that after finishing filming scenes in Rome for the upcoming film “Ocean’s 12” this spring, she telephoned Douglas and told him she was so upset she feared she was having a stroke or a heart attack.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Debra Archuleta methodically led the actress through a reading of excerpts from 26 letters that included threats allegedly written between October 2003 and May of this year.

None were addressed to the actress, but were instead sent to her father-in-law, actor Kirk Douglas; her agent, Bryan Lourd; a former boyfriend in Europe; Hollywood hostess Dani Janssen; and others.

“I guess me and my associates will have to get rid of her ... before she starts filming [‘Ocean’s 12’] in April,” read a letter sent to Douglas’ late half-brother, Eric Douglas. “She’ll be dead before she’s ready to blink an eye.”

Michael Douglas testified that the threats left his wife hysterical. In particular, he said, Zeta-Jones was disturbed that the letters indicated intimate knowledge of the couple’s travels and homes.

“She felt she was a marked person,” Douglas said. “She couldn’t figure out how they knew where she was.”

Knight’s attorney, Richard P. Herman, told reporters after the day’s testimony that his client was merely infatuated with Douglas. Herman said the case against Knight was overblown.

“There’s no question this wasn’t a real threat,” Herman said to reporters, although he acknowledged that Knight wrote most of the letters. When asked whether his client was guilty, he replied, “My client is foolish.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a proceeding involving two major celebrities, the hearing was filled with movie references. Some of the letters read aloud included references to the murders of Sharon Tate and Nicole Brown Simpson.

The hearing is scheduled to continue today.


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