September 30, 2009 / 8:46 PM / 9 years ago

Pay or be blamed for son's death, Travolta told

NASSAU (Reuters) - Actor John Travolta testified in a Bahamian extortion trial on Wednesday that he was told that unless he paid $25 million, stories would be sold to the news media implying his son’s death was intentional and he was to blame.

Actor John Travolta is pictured with his son Jett (L) in this undated photograph, released January 4, 2009. REUTERS/Courtesy of the Travolta family/Rogers & Cowan/Handout

Travolta said he was first told by longtime friend and employee Ronald Zupancic of the alleged threat and demand for money on January 16. That was two weeks after Travolta’s son Jett, 16, died of a seizure disorder during a family vacation in the Bahamas.

It was unclear who relayed the alleged threat to Zupancic.

Former paramedic Tarino Lightbourne and former Bahamian Senator Pleasant Bridgewater, who is an attorney, are accused of conspiracy and attempting to extort money from Travolta by means of threats. Bridgewater is also accused of abetting extortion.

Travolta testified last week he tried frantically to save his son by performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while another visitor at the resort helped with chest compressions and used a defibrillator on Jett, who had been found unresponsive on a bathroom floor.

Travolta said the suspected threat related to a liability release form, freeing medical personnel of any responsibility for his son’s death. He said he signed it after paramedics were summoned to the family’s vacation home at the Old Bahama Bay Resort on Grand Bahama Island.

Travolta testified previously he signed the form because he wanted to take his son to Florida for treatment rather than send him to a Bahamian hospital.

Watched in court by his actress wife, Kelly Preston, Travolta said he was told that if $25 million was not paid, the document would be sold to the news media and used to generate stories.

Asked by the chief prosecutor what type of stories, Travolta replied, “Stories that would imply that the death of my son was intentional, and I was culpable in some way.”

Jett was autistic and suffered frequent seizures, Travolta previously testified.


Travolta said he told Zupancic they needed to do whatever was necessary to investigate the threat, and that he later discussed it with one of his attorneys and gave permission for the matter to be reported to Bahamian authorities.

Under cross-examination, Travolta said he did not know either of the accused. Lightbourne was one of the parademics at the scene when Jett died and when Travolta signed the medical liability release form.

Travolta said no direct threats or demands for payment were made to him personally by either of the accused.

Earlier testimony indicated Bridgewater was acting as an attorney for the paramedic, who had lost his job for discussing Jett’s death with journalists.

Travolta’s Bahamian attorney, Allyson Maynard-Gibson, testified on Tuesday that Bridgewater showed her a copy of the medical release form and said she wanted to give Travolta the first opportunity to buy the original because several news outlets had expressed interest.

Maynard-Gibson testified that Bridgewater told her Lightbourne had the original document.

Editing by Jane Sutton and Peter Cooney

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