Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson testifies she feared man accused of stalking her in LA

By Anthony Mccartney, AP
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Shawn Johnson testifies she feared alleged stalker

LOS ANGELES — Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson voice cracked Thursday as a prosecutor showed her a knife found in the car of a man accused of stalking her.

Johnson’s 23 minutes on the witness stand was the first time she came face-to-face with Robert O’Ryan, who is accused of breaking onto a studio lot to meet the gold medalist as she competed on the ABC show “Dancing With the Stars.”

“I didn’t know him,” Johnson said. “He was a stranger to me. To see somebody had that much kind of obsession, it made me really scared.”

It was also the first time that Johnson was confronted with the weapons and other items that O’Ryan brought with him from Florida in his quest to meet the gymnast.

One at a time, prosecutor Wendy Segall showed the 18-year-old a handgun, shotgun, zip ties and a bulletproof vest found in O’Ryan’s car after his arrest last March.

Prosecutors said O’Ryan, 36, harbored a dangerous obsession for Johnson, then 17, and traveled from Florida to Los Angeles with the hope of meeting and marrying her.

O’Ryan has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to felony stalking and burglary charges and two misdemeanor weapons charges. He sat quietly and showed no reaction while Johnson testified.

Prosecutors rested their case Thursday afternoon after three days of testimony and evidence. A judge then rejected a motion by O’Ryan’s attorney to dismiss the case.

Assistant Public Defender Judith Greenberg argued prosecutors failed to prove O’Ryan had any criminal intent by showing up at the studio wearing a top hat, coat and tie. He had left his car, and the weapons, at a parking lot adjacent to the studios.

“All the circumstantial evidence is consistent with someone who did not have any evil intent toward Shawn Johnson or her family,” Greenberg said.

Segall argued that O’Ryan lied to an Alabama police office who stopped him on his cross-country trek about not having any weapons, even though he had the handgun in a hollowed-out book under his front seat.

“The defendant is dangerous, he’s manipulative and he’s deceitful,” Segall said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said the case presents a “chilling” situation that demonstrates “the existence of a credible threat.”

Earlier Thursday, Johnson recounted being informed of O’Ryan’s presence at the studio after she performed on “Dancing With the Stars.” Police and her parents told her the man had been armed and she needed a bodyguard.

“They didn’t want to tell me too much to scare me, but of course it did,” Johnson said.

Johnson calmly answered questions posed by Segall and Greenberg, saying she was nervous about appearing in court.

Segall asked Johnson about poems O’Ryan allegedly wrote about the athlete, some of which had her name hyphenated with O’Ryan’s.

One of the poems, shown in court Tuesday, professed unwavering love for Johnson. “I feel quite lucky,” the poem read, “that we fight happy, I want everything to go your way, and this is how I pray, that we will be together to stay …. and no matter what you do, I will always love you.”

Authorities said they found numerous other writings addressed to Johnson and gifts for her and her family in O’Ryan’s car. Prosecutors also say they found a piece of a paper with an Iowa address for a person named Shawn Johnson, but it was not the gymnast’s address.

Johnson said she considered resigning from “Dancing With the Stars” and moving back to Iowa after O’Ryan’s arrest. However, she stayed on the show and eventually won her season.

Johnson won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

O’Ryan has been jailed since he was arrested for investigation of jumping a fence at the studio lot.

He could face up to four years in prison if convicted. He also could face two years in jail if he is convicted of two misdemeanor concealed weapons violations.

If O’Ryan is convicted, a judge will then determine whether he is legally insane. Greenberg, said in opening statements that O’Ryan was a well-educated engineer before he developed a mental illness several years ago.

O’Ryan’s defense began Thursday afternoon with a forensic psychiatrist testifying that O’Ryan likely suffers from schizophrenia and suffered from numerous auditory hallucinations.

In a tape of an interview with police played in court Thursday, O’Ryan asks a detective whether he believes in ESP. O’Ryan told the officer he used ESP to communicate with numerous people on television, including rappers Ludacris and Lil Jon and some daytime soap opera stars.

O’Ryan said he started communicating with Johnson telepathically when she competed in the Beijing Olympics.

O’Ryan has waived his right to a jury trial and his fate will be decided by Pastor. The case could conclude on Friday.

will not be displayed