Criminal trial of man accused of stalking gymnast Shawn Johnson opens in Los Angeles

By Anthony Mccartney, AP
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Trial begins for accused Shawn Johnson stalker

LOS ANGELES — A man accused of stalking Shawn Johnson harbored a dangerous obsession to marry the Olympic gold-medalist, a prosecutor claimed Tuesday.

Robert O’Ryan, 36, sat quietly as prosecutor Wendy Segall described how he drove from Jacksonville, Fla., to Los Angeles in March 2009 in an attempt to meet Johnson.

At one point in her opening statements in O’Ryan’s criminal trial, Segall produced the numerous weapons — a handgun, shotgun, knife and club — found in his car, which was searched after he jumped a fence at the studios where Johnson was performing on the reality competition “Dancing with the Stars.”

The prosecutor said the guns were loaded at the time of O’Ryan’s arrest last March. Segall said he also had duct tape, plastic ties and a bulletproof vest in the car.

O’Ryan has pleaded not guilty to felony stalking and burglary charges and two misdemeanor counts of carrying a concealed weapon. If convicted, he faces nearly four years in prison for the felonies and two years in jail for the misdemeanors.

On Monday, O’Ryan entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. If a judge rules he is insane, O’Ryan could be sent to a state mental hospital.

His attorney, Judith Greenberg, said in her opening remarks that O’Ryan posed no threat to Johnson. She said O’Ryan was a well-educated man who developed a mental illness years ago and had a delusional fascination with the gymnast.

Greenberg said her client didn’t try to contact Johnson until he went to the “Dancing with the Stars” set. She also said he thought he needed to protect Johnson, not harm her.

“He also came because the delusions and the voices told him Shawn Johnson was in danger and he needed to protect her,” Greenberg said. “He was so impelled and compelled to come here because of the certainty of his beliefs.”

Johnson won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Games. She was not present in court but is expected to testify at the trial, which is expected to last all week. O’Ryan has waived his right to a jury trial, so his fate will be decided solely by a judge.

The first round of witnesses Tuesday included studio employees and security workers who encountered O’Ryan the day he went to try to meet Johnson.

An Alabama police officer, Christopher Crisler, also testified about a traffic stop days earlier in which O’Ryan laid out his plan to try to meet the gymnast and marry her. The stop was videotaped by the patrol car’s dashcam and showed in court.

When the officer asked skeptically about O’Ryan trying to marry someone he’s never met, the former engineer replied that his plan was to try to spend as much time with her as possible.

“I know it’s kind of a little bit crazy,” O’Ryan says at one point during the traffic stop.

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