John Travolta ends $25m extortion case linked to death of his son

The Philadelphia Daily News/September 7, 2010

Two people accused of attempting to extort $25m (£16m) from John Travolta following the death of his son are to walk free after a judge in the Bahamas dismissed the case against them, apparently at the actor's request.

A court in Nassau was about to begin the retrial of Tarino Lightbourne, a local ambulance driver, and Pleasant Bridgewater, his former lawyer and local politician, yesterday when prosecutors announced that Mr Travolta had contacted them saying he no longer wished to give evidence in the case.

Although a jury had already been picked, prosecutor Neil Braithwaite said that the Pulp Fiction actor had decided to withdraw as his side's star witness in the forthcoming trial. "The Travolta family has said that this matter has caused them unbelievable stress and pain and they now wish to put this whole thing behind them," he told the court.

It makes for an unsatisfying end to the murky case. Mr Lightbourne and Ms Bridgewater were accused of threatening to sell stories to news outlets suggesting that Mr Travolta was somehow at fault over the death of his son, Jett, who had a fatal seizure at the family's holiday home on Grand Bahama in January 2009.

The 16-year-old had suffered from severe autism for years. However, the Church of Scientology, of which Mr Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, are among the most prominent members, takes a sceptical view with regard to the existence of autism.

It later emerged that paramedics had arrived at Mr Travolta's home shortly after a nanny found Jett unconscious in a bathroom on 2 January, and asked him to sign a medical liability release form. That document was at the centre of Mr Lightbourne and Ms Bridgewater's alleged blackmail attempt.

According to evidence aired at the original trial, which was declared a mistrial last October, Ms Bridgewater contacted Michael Ossi, one of the actor's lawyers, several days after the boy's death. She allegedly said that she represented Mr Lightbourne, and her client planned to release copies of the liability form to media outlets unless he was paid $25m (£16m).

Ms Bridgewater, who resigned her seat in the Bahamas senate after she was charged with extortion, was further accused of threatening that Mr Lightbourne would give interviews claiming that Mr Travolta had refused treatment for his son. The actor has always strongly denied that allegation and gave evidence at the original trial that he desperately tried to save his son's life.

Although the case against them appeared to be compelling, their original trial had to be abandoned while the jury was deliberating because a member of Ms Bridgewater's Progressive Liberal Party gave a speech at a political event suggesting that she was going to be acquitted and was "a free woman."

The comments gave the appearance of an improper leak from the jury room, so the judge reluctantly announced that there would have to be a retrial, so as to "err on the side of caution".

With that case due to be heard later this month, Mr Travolta, whose 47-year-old wife is pregnant, appears to have decided that he no longer wanted to go through the stressful process of giving evidence for a second time.

"The long-pending status of this matter continued to take a heavy emotional toll on my family, causing us to conclude that it was finally time to put this matter behind us," he said in a statement yesterday. "Therefore, after much reflection I concluded that it was in my family's best interest for me not to voluntarily return to The Bahamas to testify a second time at trial."

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