Bahamas ex-sen. denies Travolta extortion attempt

October 14, 2009 12:02:37 PM PDT
A former Bahamas senator denied trying to blackmail actor John Travolta after the death of his 16-year-old son as she testified in her extortion trial Wednesday.

In an unsworn statement, Pleasant Bridgewater told jurors she was set up by the movie star's lawyers and complained she has been ridiculed and ostracized since being charged in January.

"I maintain my innocence," said Bridgewater, who was not subject to cross-examination because she did not swear an oath. "I will be the first to say I am no saint. But I am no devil."

Defense lawyers began presenting their side after three weeks of testimony by prosecution witnesses including Travolta, who said ambulance driver Tarino Lightbourne threatened to sell stories to the news media suggesting the movie star was at fault in the death of his son, Jett, unless he paid $25 million.

Bridgewater is accused of negotiating with Travolta's attorneys for Lightbourne. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty to extortion.

The alleged scheme involved a document that Travolta signed in the moments after his son suffered a seizure at a family vacation home on Grand Bahama. The actor said he was hoping to fly his son to the United States for treatment, and the form would have released the ambulance driver from liability. But he changed his mind and Jett was taken to a local hospital, where he died Jan. 2.

Police said Bridgewater told them following her arrest that she burned the document after catching wind of the investigation.

But in Wednesday's statement to the jury, the former senator said she made that claim to stop a search of her home that was upsetting her elderly parents.

Defense lawyers plan to call four witnesses, including the doctor who first treated Jett and a paramedic who accompanied Lightbourne to the house.

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