Charges dropped in John Travolta extortion case
Two defendants cleared after actor declines new trialNASSAU, Bahamas -- A judge in the Bahamas dismissed charges Monday against two people accused of trying to extort money from John Travolta after the actor decided he no longer wanted to face the pain of a new trial stemming from the death of his teenage son on the island chain.
Prosecutor Neil Braithwaite had submitted a motion to drop the case just as a retrial was about to start for the two defendants.
"The Travolta family has said that this matter has caused them unbelievable stress and pain and they wish to put this whole thing behind them," Braithwaite told the court after a jury had been picked to hear the case.
Ambulance driver Tarino Lightbourne and his attorney, politician Pleasant Bridgewater, were accused of threatening to release private information about the January 2009 death of Travolta's 16-year-old son, Jett, at the family vacation home in Grand Bahama.
Lightbourne, who was among the medics who treated Jett, allegedly sought $25 million from the actor with the assistance of Bridgewater, who resigned her seat in the Bahamas Senate after she was charged in the case.
A judge declared a mistrial in October after a Bahamian lawmaker suggested the still-deliberating jury had acquitted one of the suspects.
Travolta had testified during that trial -- describing how he desperately tried to save the life of his seizure-prone son -- and his attorneys said in October that he was prepared to return to the stand if necessary. But the actor said Monday that the passage of time had changed his mind.
"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," the actor said in a written statement. "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."
Travolta thanked Bahamian authorities for their work on the case and said his cooperation had come at "great emotional cost to my family."
The defendants had mixed reactions to the dismissal. Bridgewater was relieved. "I'm just happy to be free and put this all behind me," said said outside court.
But Lightbourne said he wanted a trial to prove his innocence. "I'm not totally satisfied," he said. "I wanted to have my name cleared.
Jett Travolta suffered a seizure and collapsed at the family's home. The actor testified that he performed CPR on the teen after a nanny alerted him and his wife, actress Kelly Preston. John Travolta told the court -- apparently for the first time in public -- that his 16-year-old son was autistic, confirming speculation that had swirled for years. The developmental disorder is frequently accompanied by seizures.
Travolta testified that Lightbourne, one of the paramedics who responded to the home on Grand Bahama island, threatened to sell stories to the news media suggesting the movie star was at fault in the death of his 16-year-old son.
If he did not pay $25 million, Travolta told the jury, Lightbourne indicated he would use against him a consent document that the actor initially signed refusing to have his son Jett sent to a local hospital. The document cleared Lightbourne of any liability.
The actor testified that he signed the document because, after waiting about 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, he intially wanted his son flown to Florida for treatment. In the end, he was taken to a Bahamian hospital.