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Celebrity-stalking has common threads

March 26, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Experts say past celebrity-stalking cases have many threads in common with Olympic gymnast and "Dancing With The Stars" contestant Shawn Johnson's current case.Many celebrity-stalking cases end quietly. But, from Paula Abdul to Rebecca Schaeffer, many do not.

The 1989 murder of 22-year-old actress Rebecca Schaeffer changed the way the world looked at celebrity stalking. Obsessed fan Robert John Bardo shot Schaeffer at her Fairfax District apartment when he got her address through DMV records. He had stalked the star of the sitcom "My Sister Sam" for three years. A year after Schaeffer's murder, California passed the first anti-stalking laws, and those in law enforcement and personal protection changed the way they dealt with stalking.

"Prior to Rebecca Schaeffer, we wouldn't tell the celebrity that they had issues ... we didn't want to make them feel uncomfortable," said Fred Wilson, Knight Protection Services. "Had Rebecca Schaeffer known that she had a stalker, she would've protected herself -- she probably would not have answered the door. So we've changed in the sense that we notify everybody."

Last November, a woman apparently obsessed with "American Idol" star Paula Abdul died in an apparent suicide outside the star's Los Angeles mansion. Paula Goodspeed had revealed her love for the performer.

Late-night talk-show host Conan O'Brien had persistent attention from a Boston priest who's now in custody and faces prison if convicted of aggravated harassment and stalking.

Actress Lindsay Lohan had a scary encounter in December in Arizona when a man lunged at her, yelling his love for her. Daniel Patrick Combs faces charges.

"Kill Bill" star Uma Thurman was stalked by an obsessed fan for two years. Jack Jordan was arrested outside Thurman's New York City home.

In 2006, actor John Cusack was granted a temporary restraining order against his alleged stalker. But now Emily Leatherman has been arrested on suspicion of stalking him in violation of the order.

And that's an issue with restraining orders, says criminal-defense lawyer Darren Kavinoky. In the case of 17-year-old "Dancing With The Stars" contestant and Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, could a restraining order offer protection from accused stalked Robert O'Ryan, arrested with loaded guns, duct tape, and love letters in his car? According to police, those items were retrieved from O'Ryan's vehicle.

"Shawn Johnson and the family, they've got legitimate cause for concern," said Kavinoky.

Kavinoky believes in most stalking cases there are problems prison won't cure.

"They don't just lock people up forever and throw away the key because of an incident like this," said Kavinoky. "It's just not possible to lock somebody away for the rest of their lives, so we'd better be prepared to address those underlying mental-health issues."

Shawn Johnson's parents requested and got a restraining order against O'Ryan, saying the teen was in fear for her life.

One defense expert says stay-away orders can work because any violations under the order greatly increase penalties, which may offer only small comfort to the Johnsons.


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