Celebrity Stalking
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                    By Rhonda Saunders, J.D. and Sean Wainwright, J.D.

Stalking, Threatening, and Attacking Public Figures, Oxford University Press (2008), edited by  J. Reid Meloy, Lorraine Sheridan, and Jens Hoffman


“I think he is on a mission and he won’t be satisfied until he accomplishes the mission, and I think I am the subject of the mission.” On February 25, 1998, Steven Spielberg, appearing nervous and shaken, testified in a jury trial, against Jonathan Norman, the man who had stalked and threatened to rape him in front of his wife.

 Rhonda Saunders has been a criminal prosecutor for over twenty-three years in Los Angeles, California. Many of her stalking prosecutions have involved high profile celebrity figures such as Steven Spielberg, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anna Nicole Smith, Jerri Ryan, Major League baseball player Eric Karros, and others. These types of cases raise certain trial issues and dynamics that are not present in other kinds of cases in which the victim and/or the defendant are non-celebrities. Some of these differences involve the nature of the stalker himself or herself, such as the stalker’s need for attention and notoriety or specific forms of mental disorder such as erotomania. Other differences manifest themselves in the nature of celebrity stalking prosecutions versus domestic violence, workplace and campus stalking, such as excessive media attention, jurors’ existing bias for and against the celebrity victim, and the celebrity’s desire for anonymity.

                                    PEOPLE V. JONATHAN NORMAN

             In March, 1995, Jonathan Norman was arrested in Santa Monica for attempting to run over a group of elderly strangers with his jeep. When he failed to actually hit any of them, he backed his jeep up in another attempt to run them down. That attempt also failed, so he jumped out of his jeep, ran over to one of the women in the group, pulled her to the ground and began kicking her in the head and back with his steel-toed boot. When one of the men in the group tried to intervene, the buffed-up Norman began punching the man in the face and stomach. He was captured and pled guilty to two counts of felony Assault to Inflict Great Bodily Injury.  (CAL. PENAL CODE § 245(a)(1) (2005)). Prior to his plea, Norman underwent a psychological examination. According to Norman’s friend and “would-be” lover Chuck Markovich, Norman told the therapist that he was aware that he could utilize a psychiatric defense, but would prefer, if he was to be convicted, to get a specific sentence, because “then I’ll know I’m getting out. If they put you in a hospital, they can lock you there forever.” Markowitz testified that although he often helped to financially support Norman and they had lived together, they had never engaged in sexual conduct.

While serving his sentence in state prison, for some unknown reason, Norman became fixated on Director/Producer Steven Spielberg. Norman was released from prison in November, 1996 and immediately began collecting articles, photographs, and other memorabilia relating to Spielberg and also spoke to Chuck about converting to Judaism. He purchased a “Map to the Stars’ Homes” for $7.50 on Sunset Boulevard which revealed Spielberg’s home address.

Unbeknownst to Norman, Spielberg and his family had left their home on June 23, 1997 and flew to Ireland where Spielberg was filming the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” On June 29th, Norman drove to Spielberg’s house and approached the gate. He was confronted by a security guard and Norman told him that he worked for Spielberg’s partner, David Geffen, and had an important personal delivery to make. The security guard told Norman to leave which he did with a glare towards the guard. A couple of days later, Norman had Chuck drive him past Spielberg’s house. Norman showed Markovich a day planner in which there was a photograph of Speilberg’s head affixed to a naked male body. On July 9th, Norman told Markovich that he was going to climb over Spielberg’s wall and rape him. He told Markowitz that he had found a low point in the wall surrounding Spielberg’s residence that he could scale. Markowitz attempted to talk Norman out of his plan, telling him that he would be caught and arrested by Spielberg’s security guards. Norman agreed, but two days later he attempted to carry out his plan.  

       At approximately 1:25 a.m. on July 11th, a Westec security officer spotted a Land Rover, identical to the one driven by Spielberg’s wife, parked directly across the street from Spielberg’s house. Norman was behind the wheel. Norman told the guard that he was having car trouble, but when the guard checked the car, it was operable. The guard ordered Norman to leave and Norman drove away.

Norman returned to the house at 7 a.m. the same day. Westec had responded to reports from Spielberg’s neighbors that a man was running through their backyards carrying a large stick. The guard saw Norman as he was jumping over a fence separating two of the homes. He gave chase and found Norman hiding under some bushes. Norman had his day planner, with the cut-up picture of Spielberg in it. He told the guard that he was “running away from some jackals” and also said he was Spielberg’s newly adopted son, David Spielberg. L.A.P.D. arrived and Norman repeated his story to them. The day planner was turned over to the police by the security guard. L.A.P.D. had Norman evaluated by a drug recognition expert who determined that he was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. They also determined that he did not qualify to be placed under a psychiatric hold. One of the officers suggested to Norman that he voluntarily place himself under psychiatric care and Norman reassured him that he would do that. The officer returned Norman’s day planner to him and released him at 10:30 a.m..

Norman returned again to Spielberg’s house at approximately 5p.m. that same day. He parked the rented Land Rover approximately 100 feet from the driveway. One of the security guards, who had previous contact with Norman, saw him on the security camera and recognized him as the person who had made two other attempts to gain access to the home. The guard called L.A.P.D., and as he watched on the monitor, he saw Norman back the Land Rover into the driveway and up against the gate as if trying to break the gate down. He did not succeed and drove away. The police found Norman’s car parked approximately two blocks away from the house. They searched the area but could not locate Norman. The officers waited by the car and Norman finally returned to the car where he was confronted by the police. 

When he was searched, the police found that Norman had concealed a large role of duct tape, handcuffs and a razor-blade knife under his sweat shirt. Two more sets of handcuffs and boxes of razor blades were found in his car. They also located Norman’s day planner. The picture of Spielberg had been removed but it contained the names and birthdates of Spielberg’s wife and children. When Norman was asked what he was doing in the area, he told one of the officers that he had an appointment with Spielberg about a screenplay in which he would play a rapist. The handcuffs and tape were “props”. Spielberg’s lawyer and friend, Bruce Ramer, was notified about the situation and Ramer called Spielberg, who was still in Europe. Spielberg was very frightened and concerned, not only for his safety, but for his family’s safety. He immediately authorized additional security for his house, his mother’s Los Angeles house, and for himself and his family in Ireland.

Norman was taken into custody and placed under a psychiatric hold. He was not arrested. He was released from the hospital two weeks later. The next day he was arrested by his parole officer for having tested “dirty” for methamphetamines on three occasions the prior month. While in jail, Norman was interviewed by one of Spielberg’s security managers, Rick Vigil. Norman told him that he intended to rape Spielberg and if the director’s wife had been there, he would have handcuffed her and made her watch the rape. Norman confessed to the police that he had conducted research to learn all he could about Spielberg, that he had purchased the handcuffs and duct tape to carry out his plan to rape Spielberg, and that he had tried to jump the fence at Spielberg’s home but was chased away by security dogs (the jackals). In October, 1997, Norman was indicted for felony stalking by a Grand Jury and held on one million dollars bail.  Prior to arraignment, Norman’s lawyer and Saunders both stipulated that the Grand Jury transcripts should remain sealed until trial to avoid a media frenzy similar to the one Saunders had to contend with during her prosecution of Madonna’s stalker, Robert Hoskins.

Not surprisingly, the defense tried to blame Norman’s conduct on drug induced psychosis and schizophrenia. He did not plead “not guilty by reason of insanity”. Instead, his attorney attempted to establish that as a result of mental illness, the defense of “diminished actuality” applied and that Norman’s mental illness prohibited him from forming the specific intent necessary to convict him of stalking. One of the elements of stalking that Saunders needed to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt was that Norman had the specific intent to place Spielberg in fear for his safety or the safety of his immediate family.  (CAL. PENAL CODE § 646.9 (2005)).  Another issue that she had to overcome at trial was the defense argument that Norman could not be convicted of stalking because Spielberg was in Europe filming “Saving Private Ryan” during the entire period of time the stalking conduct took place. Spielberg was unaware he was being stalked by Norman. He was first told about Jonathan Norman by Spielberg’s friend and lawyer, Bruce Ramer, several days after Norman was taken into custody.   Ramer called Spielberg in Ireland to warn him because it appeared that Norman was about to be released, unsupervised, from the psychiatric hospital, and Ramer feared that Norman would be lying in wait for Spielberg upon his return to Los Angeles. Saunders argued to the jury that even though Spielberg wasn’t physically present at his home during the stalking activity, Norman believed that he was there and thus the criminal intent element was satisfied.

The jury rejected Norman’s defenses and convicted him of felony stalking. Because Norman had previously been convicted of two strikes, he was sentenced to twenty-five years to life. Saunders requested that Norman be placed in the prison’s psychiatric unit. If he is ever  released from prison, he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

The Court of Appeal upheld Norman’s conviction. In a published opinion, the court held that the stalking victim’s awareness does not have to be contemporaneous with the course of conduct that constitutes the stalking: “Logic dictates…that Spielberg’s serendipitous absence on the days of Norman’s efforts to gain access to Spielberg’s residence cannot diminish Norman’s criminal responsibility for his course of action.” (People v. Norman).

                                      PEOPLE V. DANTE SIOU

Gwyneth Paltrow is a well-known stage and screen actress who is best known for her performance in the movie, “Shakespeare In Love.” Dante Siou was a fifty-one year old unemployed pizza deliveryman from Columbus, Ohio. In February, 1999, he saw Paltrow appear on television at the Academy Award ceremony and became obsessed with her. He located her parents’ address from the internet and sent a bizarre letter to that address in which he stated that he was “more than a fan” and ordered Paltrow not to marry her then-current boyfriend, actor Ben Affleck. Siou stated that God had ordained that he and Paltow should be together. Paltrow read the letter and became uncomfortable and concerned because of the content and tone of the letter. She immediately notified her private security company, Galahad Protection. Siou began sending numerous letters to her in which he claimed that it was God’s will that they be together and that he was acting in God’s name. He threatened that if she ignored him, she and her parents would be cursed and perish.  He also wrote “I will never let this love go…nor you.”

In April, 1999, Siou’s letters became sexual and he began to send Paltrow pornography and sex toys, such as a vibrating penis upon which he wrote, “Cause I love you.” Enclosed with his letters and sex toys, he sent Paltrow copies of letters that he had written to then President Clinton and members of Congress in which he gave them political advice on how to run the country.

On May 28, 1999, Siou came to Los Angeles and went directly to Paltrow’s family’s house where he confronted her mother, Blythe Danner, in the front yard. She told him he was frightening them and to please stop sending things to their house. He apologized and walked away. The next day he returned and left a note on the gate, “I want to thank you for forgiving me for I have been a pain to you.” F.B.I. Agent J.D. and I interviewed Paltrow and her parents at their home. They all expressed fear of Siou. Paltrow was very upset because she felt it was her fault that her parents and brother were being placed in danger by her deranged “fan”. Saunders requested that the F.B.I. visit Siou and put him on notice that his conduct was frightening the victim and had to stop. The reason that she made this request for F.B.I. intervention was that if she did proceed with prosecution, once Siou had been put on notice by law enforcement that he was frightening Paltrow and her family, he could not claim as a defense that he didn’t know he was frightening them. One of the elements that a prosecutor would have to prove was that Siou had the specific intent to place Paltrow in fear for her safety or the safety of her immediate family.

The following month, Paltrow received numerous envelopes from Siou containing more pornographic pictures. On several of the pictures, Siou wrote “Gwyn” on the female figure and “Dante” on the male. Saunders spoke to the local U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding the pornography that was being sent interstate through the mail by Siou.  They told her that it did not fit their criteria for filing because pornography was judged by community standards, and in Los Angeles, the type of pornography being sent by Siou could be found at magazine shops throughout the city.

In July, 1999, F.B.I. agents went to Siou’s apartment in Ohio. He admitted sending the letters and objects and also admitted that he knew it was wrong and that he was frightening Paltrow and her family. He promised the agents that he would stop. He didn’t send anything more for approximately one month and then began bombarding Paltrow with more pornography, sexual letters, books and sex toys. In November he sent Paltrow a letter asking her to marry him and enclosed a fake diamond engagement ring.

         In April, 2000, Siou sent Paltrow a letter stating that he had saved enough money to travel to Los Angeles and he would be arriving shortly. Siou came back to Los Angeles on May 13, 2000 and went directly back to Paltrow’s house. He was confronted by her father who angrily told him to leave them alone. Dennis Bridwell, Paltrow’s head of security, suspected that Siou would return so he staked out the house. Sure enough, Siou returned to the house at around 10:00 p.m. that night. Bridwell was waiting for him. He placed Siou under citizen’s arrest and called the local police department who arrived and took him into custody.

Saunders became aware of this case in April, 1999, shortly after Paltrow had received the first letter from Siou. Bridwell called her and told her that he was gathering all the letters and packages that were sent to Paltrow and keeping them in chronological order for possible use as evidence if the case was later filed. She was asked to help monitor the case.  At first, Paltrow did not want the case to become public and was hoping that the intervention of the F.B.I. and her security people would cause Siou to stop his activities. She was extremely fearful, not only for her safety, but the safety of her family. When it became apparent that nothing was going to stop Siou’s mission, and that he was planning to come once again to Los Angeles, it was decided that when he showed up, he would be arrested.. Due to the sexual nature of the stalking, Saunders was able to file a charge of felony stalking substituting “Jane Doe” for Gwyneth Paltrow as the named victim in the case. Because it was filed and prosecuted in a remote courthouse near LAX Airport, the press did not become aware of the case until after Paltrow and her mother had testified at trial. Following the guilt phase of the trial, Siou was found guilty of stalking. In the bifurcated part of the trial, Siou was declared legally insane by the judge and sentenced to a locked down psychiatric facility until he is no longer deemed a danger to himself or others. Actual custody time, if he had been found to be sane, would have been 18 months, with good-time/work-time credits. As of 2007, Siou was still being held in a psychiatric facility.
                                            PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES AND DEFENSES


Both Jonathan Norman and Dante Siou relied upon psychiatric defenses at their trials, with differing results. Norman put on evidence of “diminished actuality” and Siou pled not guilty by reason of insanity. Siou, was facing a maximum sentence of only three years in state prison if sentenced as a felon. Rather than challenge the insanity plea, Saunders submitted the issue of Siou’s legal sanity on the reports of four mental health experts, all of whom had differing opinions on Siou’s mental condition. However, all were in agreement that he needed long term psychiatric care. Out of the four evaluations,  Saunders gave credence to only one expert with whom she had worked in past cases and had found to be thorough and discerning in his psychological analysis. She therefore stipulated to the fact of Siou’s insanity. Instead of being sent to state prison, Siou was sent to a high security psychiatric hospital where he will remain as long as he is deemed a threat to others or himself. As a prosecutor, her main concern was for the victim’s safety.  The outcome of this case provided that Siou would be “off the street” for a lengthy period of time and would not be able to harm Paltrow or her family. Siou is now receiving much needed, long-term psychiatric treatment which he never would have voluntarily sought.

During Saunders career as a criminal prosecutor who has handled hundreds of stalking cases, it has been her observation that stalkers seldom if ever take responsibility for their conduct. They do not seek out mental health care because they believe that there is nothing wrong with them. When they are arrested and confronted with their conduct, they will try to put the blame on the victim, the police, the prosecutor, etc. It is always someone else’s fault. Most stalkers will never be “cured” because of their state of denial.


Celebrity stalkers often suffer from erotomania, otherwise known as De Clerembault Syndrome, in which the stalker believes he or she has a personal love relationship with a stranger, often a celebrity, who is of higher status and/or unattainable.  (Meloy and Gothard,1995).  The stalker believes that the object of his obsession is also in love with him or her.  (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).  The delusion may be accompanied by auditory hallucinations in which the stalker carries out conversations with the victim, or ideas of reference in which the stalker believes the victim is sending hidden signals to him. Although this condition is generally benign, it can escalate into violence when the stalker perceives that a third party, such as a bodyguard, assistant or relative of the victim, is an obstacle to be eliminated or that the celebrity has rejected him or her.  

           Singer/actress Madonna’s assistant and bodyguard were both threatened by her stalker, Robert Hoskins, because he believed that they were keeping her from him. Hoskins physically attacked her bodyguard, Basil Stephens, and was shot when they wrestled over Stephens’ gun. Despite professing his love for Madonna, Hoskins told Stephens that if Madonna did not marry him, he would “slice her throat from ear to ear.” Following his conviction for stalking, assault, and making criminal threats against Madonna, her assistant and Stephens, Hoskins repeated this threat to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy while he was in jail awaiting sentencing. Saunders received a call from the Deputy who had the encounter with Hoskins and informed her about the threat and that Hoskins had covered his jail cell with graffiti stating, “I love Madonna”, “Madonna Love Me”, and “The Madonna Stalker”. At Hoskins’ sentencing hearing, the deputy was called as a prosecution witness to the threat and graffiti. Hoskins was sentenced to ten years in state prison, the maximum time allowable by law.

Dante Siou believed that Gwyneth Paltrow’s ghostly spirit visited his apartment to be with him and that their union was ordained by God. Siou testified at trial that when he went to the supermarket, Paltrow’s picture on the covers of various entertainment magazines and newspapers would whisper love messages to him. Paltrow testified that she was afraid not only for her safety, but feared that if Siou could not get to her that he would kill her parents. Upon being convicted of stalking Paltrow, Siou shouted to the judge, “If a man gives a woman unconditional love, she is blessed.”

                Dante Siou

In the early nineties, Los Angeles television weatherman Dallas Raines was stalked by an ex-policewoman, Martha Cane, who believed that Raines was sending secret love messages from her television set. She heard Raines’ voice coming from the television set telling her that if she ran in the Los Angeles Marathon, he would leave his wife and family and marry her. When the police served a search warrant on her apartment, they found a certificate which stated that she had actually participated in the marathon. She was so convinced that Raines could see her through the television set that she bought and dressed herself in a sexy negligee and would perform dances in front of the set whenever he was on the nightly news. If she had stayed at home in front of her television set, dancing for Raines, we would not have known about this case. Unfortunately, her obsession escalated and she tracked down Raines’ home address where she showed up several times, terrorizing Raines’ wife and children. She perceived them as obstacles standing between her and her destiny with Raines. At the time she committed these acts, California had just recently passed the first stalking law in the country, but it was rushed through the State Legislature and was not very effective. She was convicted by jury of stalking and served less than six months in the county jail.

The Defense of Diminished Actuality

Prior to 1982, California law recognized the defense of “diminished capacity”. This defense provided that a defendant could be legally sane at the time of the crime, but “(I)f he was suffering from a mental illness that prevented him from acting with malice aforethought or with premeditation and deliberation, he could not be convicted of murder of the first degree…If there was evidence that a mental illness prevented the defendant from maturely and meaningfully reflecting upon the gravity of his contemplated act, then the defendant would not be guilty of first degree murder despite substantial evidence supporting a finding of premeditation and deliberation.”  (People v. Cruz).  Although it was originally invoked in homicide cases, the defense applied to other crimes that required specific intent. It was also used to negate such particular mental states as malice, deliberation and premeditation and knowledge.  (Witkin & Epstein, 2000).  The defense of diminished capacity was eliminated by the California Legislature in response to the brutal murders of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk by ex-supervisor Daniel White and the subsequent public outcry over White’s reduced sentence.

On November 27, 1978 in San Francisco, California, Dan White, an ex-policeman and ex-city supervisor assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. White had climbed through the basement window of city hall to avoid metal detectors and confronted Moscone, demanding back his job as a city supervisor. When Moscone refused, White shot him twice at close range, then stood over the body and shot two more bullets into Moscone’s brain. White reloaded his gun and went down the hall, confronting Supervisor Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay public office holder. He shot Milk five times, killing him instantly. At trial, White’s attorney argued that White had been suffering from depression which caused him to commit the murders. A psychiatrist testified on White’s behalf, stating that, prior to the shootings, the formerly health-conscious defendant had become a junk food junkie, consuming massive quantities of “Twinkies”, a sugar laden cake-like dessert. The psychiatrist told the jury that too much sugar can affect the chemical balance in the brain and worsen depression. White was successful at his trial by asserting the diminished capacity defense (thereafter popularly referred to as the "Twinkie defense"). The jury found White guilty of a lesser charge, voluntary manslaughter, and he was sentenced to six years in state prison. He was released on parole in 1984. White committed suicide the next year.

Although the legislature in California attempted to do away with the diminished capacity defense, it was replaced with the diminished actuality defense which, for a prosecutor, creates many of the same challenges as the prior defense. California Penal Code Section 28, “Evidence of mental disease, mental defect or mental disorder, states as follows:

“(a) Evidence of mental disease, mental defect, or mental disorder shall not be admitted to show or negate the capacity to form any mental state, including, but not limited to, purpose, intent, knowledge, premeditation, deliberation, or malice aforethought, with which the accused committed the act. Evidence of mental disease, mental defect, or mental disorder is admissible solely on the issue of whether or not the accused actually formed a required specific intent, premeditated, deliberated, or harbored malice aforethought (emphasis added), when a specific intent crime is charged.

(b)  As a matter of public policy there shall be no defense of diminished capacity, diminished responsibility, or irresistible impulse in a criminal action or juvenile adjudication hearing.

(c)  This section shall not be applicable to an insanity hearing…”

California Penal Code Section 29 provides; “In the guilt phase of a criminal action, any expert testifying about a defendant’s mental illness, mental disorder, or mental defect shall not testify as to whether the defendant did or did not have the required mental states, which include, but are not limited to, purpose, intent, knowledge or malice aforethought, for the crimes charged. The question as to whether the defendant had or did not have the required mental states shall be decided by the trier of fact.” In other words, Sections 28 and 29 allow introduction of evidence of mental illness when relevant to whether a defendant actually formed a mental state that is an element of the charged offense, but do not permit an expert to offer an opinion on whether the defendant had the mental capacity to form a specific mental state or whether the defendant actually harbored such a mental state.

           The defense of diminished actuality is available to any defendant, such as Jonathan Norman, who is charged with a specific intent crime such as stalking or making criminal threats. However, in the Norman case, Saunders successfully countered the defense arguments of diminished actuality and drug induced psychosis by appealing to the jury’s common sense that when a defendant plans and premeditates a crime, there is a rational thought process that goes into the defendant’s actions.  The defendant takes deliberate steps towards the commission of their crime, and these steps would tend to indicate that the defendant is capable of formulating the intent to commit this crime and knows what he/she is about to do.  The insanity or diminished mental state defense on the other hand, defends the defendant’s actions on the basis that they were not capable of formulating the requisite criminal intent and/or could not understand right from wrong and thus should not be held liable for their actions. The diminished actuality defense and Norman’s planning and premeditation involved in stalking Spielberg were polar opposites of each other. The existence of one was a clear indicator of the absence of the other. 

Jonathan Norman, at different times, described himself to the police and Spielberg’s security guards as “David” Spielberg, the illegitimate love child of Spielberg and producer David Geffen, Spielberg’s nephew, and Spielberg’s lover. On another occasion, he identified himself as a messenger from David Geffen’s office who was sent to personally deliver a package to Spielberg. The last time he was captured and placed into custody by the police a block away from Spielberg’s house, Norman came up with another story: that he was an actor auditioning for the part of a rapist in one of Spielberg’s films and knew that he would be seen on Spielberg’s closed circuit cameras, thus bringing him to the director’s attention.

            Norman’s attorney attempted to explain Norman’s stalking conduct as a result of drug induced psychosis causing “diminished actuality”. His attorney claimed and presented expert testimony that, because of his long term use of methamphetamines, Norman could not have formed the specific intent element of stalking: to place the victim in fear for his or her safety.  (CAL. PENAL CODE § 646.9 (2005)). If successful, the jury would have had to acquit Norman because all the elements of the crime would not have been proven. In California, one of the elements necessary to convict a defendant of stalking is that the stalker had the specific intent to place the victim in fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her immediate family. In a criminal prosecution in which the specific intent or mental state of a defendant is an element, the defendant may request a specific jury instruction on insanity or mental state where there is sufficient evidence thereon on which to base such instructions.  (Gimeno, Kennel, Levin, Oakes, Surette & Williams, 2006). 

The difference between a defense of diminished actuality and insanity is that diminished actuality is a complete defense to a specific intent crime and Norman would have been set free if the jury had accepted this defense.  Defendants, on the other hand, who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity are not set free, but spend an undetermined time in a locked down psychiatric facility.

To overcome Norman’s defense, Saunders put on witness testimony and documentary evidence of Norman’s thorough planning to gain access to Spielberg.  She did not call a mental health expert to the stand on behalf of the People because she had learned from previous experience that jurors tend to disregard a “battle of the experts”.  Instead, she consulted behind the scenes with Dr. Kris Mohandie and Dr. Reid Meloy as to what would be the best approach to cross examination of the defense expert’s testimony.

At trial, she argued that although it was evident that Norman’s conduct was bizarre, Norman had minutely and intelligently planned his assault on the victim. The evidence presented at trial showed the extent of Norman’s efforts to carry out his plan. During a search of Charles Markowitz’s apartment, after Chuck had cleaned out evidence from Jonathan Norman’s home, investigators found hundreds of pages that were downloaded from the internet about Spielberg’s personal and professional life, including the names of dozens of his business associates and their work addresses, the names and birth dates of Spielberg’s children, and the names and addresses of other Spielberg relatives, including that of his mother. Investigators also found a business card and receipt from a local spy shop, Probe, Inc., indicating that Norman had purchased a book titled, “Laser Sights and Night Vision” and a penlight just a couple of days before he was taken into custody. When interviewed, a clerk at the store remembered that Norman had been inquiring into the purchase of night vision goggles. Receipts from a car rental company were found were found indicating that Norman had rented the car that was identical to the one driven by Spielberg’s wife, and an employee of the car rental company testified as to having several normal conversations with Norman regarding his need to rent that specific car. It was obvious that Norman had hoped that when his rental car approached the gate leading to Spielberg’s house, the guard would see the car, assume that it was Spielberg’s wife driving the car, and open the gate permitting Norman access to the compound. Investigators also found Norman’s journal in which he had written, in gory detail, what he was going to do to Spielberg once he gained access to him. Norman’s plan to gain access to Spielberg took place over the course of several weeks. Despite the fact that Norman’s end-goal of raping Spielberg was perverted and abnormal, the sophistication of his planning indicated both extreme premeditation and deliberation. It was also apparent from his actions that he understood that what he wanted to do was wrong: he deliberately lied to Spielberg’s security guards on two occasions, ran and concealed himself from pursuing police officers, parked his car several blocks from the house after his failed attempt to break down Spielberg’s gate, and brought items with him to bind and silence his potential victims.

In most cases such as Norman’s, jurors routinely reject psychiatric defenses because it is inconsistent to find both that a defendant planned his or her crime, yet at the same time suffered a diminished mental state so that he or she could not form the requisite criminal intent or determine right from wrong.  Specific intent demonstrates a thoughtful and deliberate process and once it has been shown, the jury  rejects the convoluted issue of mental defenses, which in many cases comes down to an imprecise science of a battle of experts.  Often, during voir dire, jurors have stated that they do not put much faith in psychiatric evaluations.  (United States v. Layton).

In 1984, Congress enacted the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 which some scholars say has prohibited the defenses of diminished responsibility and diminished capacity in federal cases.  (Dietz, Hinshaw, Leming, Martin, Zakolski, Adams, Cole & Melley, 2006; United States v. Moody).  This type of federal legislation and case law indicates the icy reception given to mental defenses by lawmakers and the public.  In response to criticism that exclusion of mental capacity might make it easier for prosecutors to obtain convictions, it has already been decided that this fact alone does not violate the Due Process clause.  (Montana v. Egelhoff; McMillan v. Pennsylvania).

             While planning and premeditation can occur in a variety of crimes, the concept is easiest to show with stalking. In order to be a “successful” stalker (i.e. the kind that comes to the attention of law enforcement), the perpetrator must not only plan his campaign of terror against the victim in minute detail, but must also be capable of repeatedly tracking and locating the object of his or her obsession. In both stalking and homicide situations, deliberation and premeditation imply the existence of a mental state capable thereof. (Gimeno, Kennel, Levin, Oakes, Surette & Williams, 2006; State v. Close).  In terms of homicide, premeditation is the conception of the design or plan to kill. (State v. Christener, 1976). In stalking, it is the sadistical plan to place the victim in abject fear for themselves or their loved ones. In some jurisdictions in order to establish premeditation it is incumbent on the commonwealth to demonstrate reflection, which is not so much a matter of time as of logical sequence. (Com v. Otsuki).  The concepts of “conception of a design,” “reflection,” and “logical sequence” are in direct contradiction to any claim of insanity or diminished reality that serves to diminish criminal responsibility. 

The extent of a  stalker’s planning and deliberation was graphically illustrated in the Norman case. Chuck Markowitz argued with Norman about his immediate plans to go over the wall at Spielberg’s residence and carry out a rape. Chuck told Norman that he would be stopped by Spielberg’s security people and the police, and for the time being, Norman changed his plans for that evening. It wasn’t until two days later that Norman attempted to carry out his assault. Norman had time to deliberate his course of action and then knowingly chose to ignore Chuck’s advice.  

              The process of formulating a logical sequence of events and then carrying out that sequence does not comport with a mental defense at trial.  Evidence demonstrating that the defendant assessed the pros and cons of the commission of a crime, and then made the decision to carry out that crime is fatal to the criminal defense of diminished actuality. 

 The Insanity Defense   

            In order to accurately critique the relationship between insanity and premeditation, an understanding of the different theories of the insanity defense is necessary.  The purpose of the insanity defense is to ensure that criminal responsibility is only imposed on those persons who have the mental understanding and capacity to comply with the law. (Wilkinson & Roberts, 2006).

            One of the more prolific tests used in the insanity defense is the M’Naghten rule, or right and wrong test. (Dietz, Hinshaw, Leming, Martin, Zakolski, Adams, Cole & Melley, 2006; M’naghten’s Case).  The test provides two distinct and independent escape hatches for a criminally insane defendant.  The accused will be deemed criminally insane and therefore not criminally responsible for a particular act if, as a result of a mental disease or defect, (1) he did not know the nature and quality of the act, or (2) did not know the act was wrong. (Dietz ET AL., 2006).  The wrongfulness prong of M’Naghten means that defendant knew his/her conduct was criminal but because of a delusion believed it to be morally justified.  The federal version of M’Naghten is found in 18 U.S.C.A. § 17, and states that it is an affirmative defense if at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant as a result of a severe mental illness, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of his acts. (18 U.S.C.A. § 17, 1984). 

            In jurisdictions where M’Naghten has not been adopted, there has been heavy critique of the right/wrong rationale.  There have been legal and psychiatric attacks on the right/wrong differential given the restrictions on expert testimony due to the fact that the terms right and wrong have no clinical significance. (Gee, 1981)

             In cases where the defendant takes deliberate steps before the crime is committed to make the commission of the crime easier, or to avoid detection while the crime is being committed, there is a clear indication that the defendant knows what they are doing and knows that it is socially  unacceptable thus negating both the first and second prong of M’Naghten.

            A second popular theory of the insanity defense is the one put forth by the American Law Institute (ALI).  In the ALI’s Model Penal Code § 4.01, it states that “A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality [wrongfulness] of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.” (MODEL PENAL CODE § 4.01(1)).  This test worked two changes in the M’naghten test.  First the ALI test speaks in terms of substantial lack of experience and capacity as opposed to an inability to know the wrongfulness of the act. (Slobogin, 2003).  Second, the ALI test uses the word “appreciate” as opposed to the word “know.”  This modification was meant to provide an excuse to those who might know their act is wrong but are unable to internalize the wrongfulness of the act.  (Slobogin, 2003).

             Again, even in relation to the ALI test which is arguable broader than M’Naghten, evidence of premeditation such as purchasing materials before hand, concealment of identity up until the final moments before the criminal act, and statements and conduct before and after the act, are all squarely opposite to the ALI’s definition of insanity.  Under the ALI approach the defendant must have the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness or criminality of the criminal act.  Evidence of premeditation could demonstrate that the defendant has the ability to plan out their crime and appreciate at every step of the criminal plan what the purpose of each step was and how it helped further the criminal plot.  While the ALI definition does not require the defendant to know their actions are criminal, evidence of premeditation still goes to the defendant’s ability to internalize the wrongful nature of their acts.  

            The concept of planning and premeditation, involves a defendant making multiple rationale choices in furtherance of the crime and then choosing a course of action to carry out his plan. Premeditation is a result of the defendant processing their act and going through a logical sequence. (Com v. Otsuki, 1991).  When the defendant is making these choices and planning these acts to help further the criminal act, there is ample evidence that the defendant appreciates the nature and quality of the act.  The defendant is taking steps to avoid capture by running away or making false statements to the police because he knows what he is doing is wrong, or the defendant is purchasing handcuffs or masking tape because they know that the victim will scream and struggle.  These types of deliberate decisions demonstrate a careful thought process and an appreciation of the wrongfulness of their actions.  Often, defendants will readily admit that they knew their actions were wrong or unacceptable.

Robert Bardo’s murder of young actress Rebecca Schaeffer, led to California’s passage of the world’s first stalking law. His elaborate planning of Rebecca Schaeffer’s murder included making the conscious choice to hire an investigator to locate Schaeffer’s home address, traveling to Los Angeles, and bringing a gun and deadly hollow point bullets with him to her apartment. Prior to his departure from Arizona to Los Angeles, Bardo told his sister that he was going to California to “save” Schaffer and the only way he could save her was by killing her.

Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, Bardo went immediately to Schaeffer’s apartment and rang her doorbell. She answered the door and they had a brief conversation. Bardo had the choice to walk away and return to Arizona but instead, he walked down the block, methodically loaded his gun and returned to her apartment with the intent to kill her. Immediately after the murder, Bardo fled California. This type of rational decision making is completely at odds with a claim that the defendant did not have the mental capacity to form the requisite level of intent or did not know the difference between right and wrong.  Bardo entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but his defense was rejected by the court and he was sentenced to life without possibility of parole in state prison.

Prior to trial, Dante Siou entered a double plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity (N.G.I.). That meant that the trial was bifurcated into a guilt phase and an insanity phase. In Siou’s case, there was evidence that he fully appreciated the fear that he engendered in Gwyneth Paltrow and her family and that he understood that what he was doing was wrong. When he confronted Blythe Danner, Paltrow’s mother in front of her house, she told him that he was putting her daughter and family in fear. He apologized and promised to stop contacting them. Rather than stopping his letters and packages, he actually increased his activities. When he was later confronted by F.B.I. agents at his apartment, they asked him if he knew why they were there, and he admitted that he knew Paltrow and her family were frightened and wanted him to stop contacting them. He promised the F.B.I. agents that he would no longer try to contact Paltrow. Despite this awareness and because of his narcissistic and grandiose personality, he continued his unwanted pursuit of the victim, ignoring the pleas of the victim’s family and law enforcement to cease his activities. Dante Siou admitted to the police that he had attempted to locate Paltrow’s address on a library computer, and when that failed, he searched for and obtained the address of her parent’s house in Santa Monica, California. 

             Several states through legislation and case law have taken the position that the insanity defense may be restricted or completely done away with. The Montana Supreme Court in State v Byers, 261 Mont. 17, 28 (1993), found that “no constitutional right to plead insanity exists in the law.”  The later case of State v Egelhoff, 272 Mont. 114 (1995), however, overruled Byers, and found that in a prosecution for deliberate homicide, an instruction which prevented the jury from considering defendant’s voluntary intoxication in determining whether he had the requisite mental state to knowingly cause the death of another relived the state of its burden to prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt and thus denied the defendant his right to due process.  That decision however was overruled by the United States Supreme Court in Montana v. Egelhoff 518 U.S. 37, 56 (1996), when the court held that nothing in the Due Process clause prevents a state from disallowing evidence of voluntary intoxication when a defendant’s state of mind is at issue. 

In addition to Egelhoff, the Supreme Court has struck other blows against constitutional protection of the insanity defense.  In Fisher v. U.S., 328 U.S. 463 (1946), the Court held that the lower court’s refusal of a requested instruction permitting the jury to weigh evidence of an accused’s mental deficiencies, which were short of insanity in a legal sense, in determining the accused’s capacity for premeditation and deliberation was not in error.  Given that there were no federal or constitutional questions, the Court permitted the District of Columbia to administer its criminal justice system, including exclusion of evidence of insanity, as it saw fit.  Other states besides the District of Columbia have made the decision to limit evidence of insanity.  Idaho, Montana, Utah, and, most recently Kansas, have all passed legislation restricting the admission of psychiatric evidence to the issue of mens rea, thus abolishing insanity as a separate affirmative defense. (IDAHO CODE § 18-207 (Michie 1948-1997); KAN. STAT. ANN. § 22-3220 (1995); MONT. CODE ANN. § 46-14-1-2 (2001); UTAH CODE ANN. § 76-2-305 (1999)).  The idea that an individual could have the requisite mental ability to plan a logical sequence of events resulting in the criminal act and yet not have the requisite level of intent at the time the crime was committed does not comport with  M’Naghten or the A.L.I. Test.

The problem with admitting copious amounts of evidence at trial pertaining to insanity is that the evidence is often unreliable or irrelevant to the elements of the offense. (Huckabee, 1989).  In fact, unreliability is particularly a problem in opinions of mental health professionals involving psychodynamic psychology. (Huckabee, 1989)  Professor Stephen Morse, psychologist and lawyer, writes that "psychodynamic formulation[s] are ... unverifiable and unreliable causal account[s] ... [providing] the fact-finder with little more than a false sense of security based on the incorrect assumption that a reasonably accurate scientific explanation has been provided." He states that "[p]sychodynamic formulations are so inherently unreliable that they cannot aid decision-making in the criminal justice system. They should not be admitted at trials, at sentencing hearings, or at any other stage of the criminal process." (Huckabee, 1989; Morse, 1982).

            Professor Morse goes on to say that there are three factors that are primarily responsible for the confusing and lengthy battle of the experts that occurs every time the insanity defense is raised.  First is the softness of mental health theory, data, and collection methods; the nonscientific character of legal issues; and the inevitable bias of mental health experts as they enter the criminal justice system as advocates. (Morse, 1982).

            It is important for the legal system to become as efficient as possible without sacrificing the constitutional rights of the individual.  Although there are certain defendants who are legally incompetent or mentally incapable of understanding the consequences of their conduct and should be treated outside of the criminal justice system, certain savvy defendants will attempt to manipulate the judicial system through the use of bogus mental defenses and are able to call at trial certain unscrupulous mental health “experts” whose opinions are severely compromised. That is not to say all mental health experts who are called as witnesses at trial are “guns for hire”, as there are many honorable true experts in the field who are willing to give unbiased, professional opinions despite which side has sought out their services.

Several years ago Saunders prosecuted a death penalty case in which the defendant had stalked and then brutally hacked his ex-wife to death with a fish-gutting knife. The defendant’s sister, horrified at what her brother had done,  came forward and testified at the trial that when she and her mother had visited him in jail prior to the trial, he reassured them that he was going to put on an insanity defense and would either be acquitted or, at worst, be convicted of manslaughter. Despite four days of testimony by the defense’s psychologist about the defendant’s fragile mental state and how he had a traumatic childhood and suffered from dissociative fugue when he killed his wife, the jury not only convicted him of first degree murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait but recommended that he be given the death penalty. At sentencing, the judge rejected the defense argument that the defendant’s mental illness should be considered a mitigating factor. The judge stated, on the record, that she had listened to the defense’s mental health expert for four days and had found the psychologist’s testimony to be “not credible.” Poynton is now on death row in California.



The trials involving Siou and Norman illustrate that the insanity and diminished actuality defenses, especially when used in stalking cases, are ineffective because of the planning and premeditation that goes into stalking conduct. Celebrity victims share the same fears and trauma as non-celebrity stalking victims. Their lives are forever changed, and their faith in humanity is diminished. 


1.      American Psychiatric Association (2000).  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, Text Revision.  Washington, DC: author.

2.      CAL. PENAL CODE § 245(a)(1) (2005).

3.      CAL. PENAL CODE § 646.9 (2005).

4.      Com v. Otsuki, (1991) 411 Mass. 218, 229. 

5.      Dietz L., Hinshaw T., Leming T., Martin L., Zakolski L., Adams R.W., Cole J. L., and Melley A. E. of the National Legal Research Group. (2006).  Diminished capacity or responsibility; generally21 AM. JUR. 2D CRIMLAW § 38.

6.      Dietz L., Hinshaw T., Leming T., Martin L., Zakolski L., Adams R. W., Cole J. L., and Melley A. E. of the National Legal Research Group. (2006). “Right and wrong” (M’naghten) rule or test; generally. 21 AM. JUR. 2D CRIMLAW § 56

7.      Gee M. M..  (1981).  Modern status of test of criminal responsibility.  9 A.L.R. 4th 526

8.      Gimeno C., Kennel J., of the staff of the National Legal Research Group; Levin J.K., Oakes K., Surette E.C., Williams E., (2006).  Homicide § IX(b)(6)(d), Personal relations of parties; generally.  41 C.J.S. Homicide § 344.

9.      Huckabee H.M.. (April 1989).  Evidence of Mental Disorder on Mens Rea:  Constitutionality of Drawing the Line at the Insanity Defense.  16 Pepp. L. Rev. 573.

10.  IDAHO CODE § 18-207 (Michie 1948-1997)

11.  KAN. STAT. ANN. § 22-3220 (1995)

12.  McMillan v. Pennsylvania, (1986) 477 U.S. 79, 89, n.5.

13.  Meloy JR, Gothard S. (1995).  Demographic and clinical comparison of obsessional followers and offenders with mental disorders.  Am J Psychiatry, 152:258-263.

14.  M'Naghten’s Case, (1843) 10 Clark & Fin. 200, 210, 8 Eng. Rep. 718, 722. 

15.  MODEL PENAL CODE § 4.01(1) (2001)

16.  MONT. CODE ANN. § 46-14-1-2 (2001)

17.  Montana v. Egelhoff, (1996) 518 U.S. 37, 38

18.      Morse S. , Failed Explanations and Criminal Responsibility:  Experts and the Unconscious, 68 VA. L. REV. 971 (1982). 

19.      People v. Cruz (1980) 26 Cal.3d 233

20.      People v. Norman (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 1234

21.  Slobogin C.. (2003). The integrationist alternative to the insanity defense:  reflections on the exculpatory scope of mental illness in the wake of the Andrea Yates trial,  30 AM. J. CRIM. L. 315.

22.  State v. Christener, (1976) 71 N.J. 55, 65. 

23.  State v. Close, (Feb 3, 1930) 148 A. 764. 

24.  United States v. Layton (1988) 855 F.2d 1388

25.  United States. v. Moody, (1991) 763 F. Supp 589.

26.  18 U.S.C.A. § 17 (1984). 

27.  UTAH CODE ANN. § 76-2-305 (1999).

28.  Wilkinson A.P.., Roberts A.C. (2006).  Insanity Defense.  41 AM. JUR. 2D POF 615.

29.  Witkin B.E., Epstein N. L., and Members of the Witkin Legal Institute.  (2000).  California Criminal Law, Ch. 3 §(I)(e), Diminished capacity, former law.  Cal. Crim. Law 3d, Defenses, § 22.

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