Zeta-Jones details threatening letters in alleged stalking case

Thursday, July 29th 2004, 6:12 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Catherine Zeta-Jones, renowned for her poise and glamour, strained to hold back tears as she described her overwhelming fear after receiving numerous death threats from a woman charged with stalking her.

Zeta-Jones took the stand Wednesday for more than three hours of testimony during a preliminary hearing that will determine if there is enough evidence to order Dawnette Knight, 32, to trial. Zeta-Jones' appearance followed more than an hour of testimony from her husband, Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas.

Knight, who apologized last month in a letter that claimed she had been infatuated with Douglas, was arrested June 3 at her Beverly Hills apartment after authorities traced several letters and phone calls to her. She was charged with stalking and 24 counts of making criminal threats, and was held on $1 million bail.

Zeta-Jones' voice trembled as she read particularly violent passages from the letters. When she wasn't speaking, the Oscar-winning actress stared at Knight, who was handcuffed to a chair.

``I've never in my life had anything or had anyone say anything to me so satanic,'' said Zeta-Jones, 35. ``I can't even imagine how a sane human being could have these images locked in their brain.''

Defense attorney Richard Herman said outside court that Knight had been upset by a tabloid report alleging an affair between the actress and actor George Clooney, a co-star in the upcoming film ``Ocean's 12.''

``That upset my client and she wrote her telling her to stop,'' Herman said.

He added that the actress didn't read the bulk of the letters until after Knight was arrested and said having Zeta-Jones read them in preparation for the hearing was a ``setup for the prosecution.''

The actress said she had a severe anxiety attack after two violent phone calls were made May 18 to her hotel in Amsterdam, where she was filming ``Ocean's 12.'' She was in constant fear while filming scenes on the city's busy streets and wondered if the letter writer was in the crowds of fans, she said.

Zeta-Jones read from 19 of the threatening letters Wednesday. Some suggested she would be chopped into pieces ``like Sharon Tate was,'' and referred to the violent deaths of President Kennedy and Nicole Brown Simpson.

The letters with references to Tate _ the actress who was a victim of the 1969 Manson Family killings _ as well as Kennedy and Simpson contained graphic details of how Zeta-Jones would be killed.