True to his word, an Ottawa man accused of stalking Shania Twain decided to plead guilty on Friday.
After a morning of testimony from Twain, the lawyer for Giovanni (John) Palumbo told court that his client would plead guilty to criminal harassment by watching and besetting and one count of failure to comply with a court order.
Two other counts of failure to comply will be withdrawn at sentencing.
During a day and a half of testimony and cross-examination, Twain described the numerous lovelorn letters Palumbo had mailed to her residences in Ontario and Switzerland, and discussed the feelings of fear and vulnerability conjured by his unwanted visits. He was seen at her family cottage, her grandmother's funeral and at the Juno Awards in March, where he was arrested.
Defence lawyer Gary Barnes said that hearing Twain's heartfelt testimony stirred a revelation in Palumbo.
“He realized: ‘My God, I have upset her,“’ Barnes told reporters after court had adjourned for the day.
“My client (thought): ‘I have made her afraid of me, and it's reasonable, her fears are reasonable.’ ... He's devastated that she's afraid. He never intended for her to fear at all — the absolute opposite. He loves her.
“But he realizes that because of his actions, it had that effect on her.”
Palumbo has been ordered to undergo a psychiatric assessment at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. He has another court date on Oct. 18 when — depending on the outcome of the psych evaluation — he could be sentenced.
The abrupt decision to alter Palumbo's plea capped an unpredictable two days in court.
Just as he did a day earlier, Palumbo interrupted Twain's testimony to plead his case on Friday morning. This time, Twain was recounting the contents of some of Palumbo's letters when he leapt to his feet and addressed the court loudly.
“But I didn't know you received any of them — you understand?” yelled Palumbo, alluding to why he persisted in corresponding with Twain even though she hadn't returned his interest.
“It is very emotional for everybody,” Palumbo said, addressing the judge. “Please understand I have emotions, very strong emotions.”
On Thursday, Palumbo had similarly disrupted the proceedings to tell Twain directly that he planned to plead guilty.
Barnes said the outbursts were an honest emotional reaction prompted by what Palumbo was hearing from the singer.
“He loves this person,” Barnes said. “The last thing in the world he wanted to do was upset her. And here he discovers he has. It puts him in a very emotional state.”
And Barnes said that while Palumbo was calm as the trial progressed, he certainly felt remorse for his actions.
“Absolutely, he feels terrible. He upset the lady he loves. Who's not going to be upset about that?”
Earlier in the day, court heard Twain — appearing via video link from an undisclosed location in Europe — empathize with Palumbo, even as she explained how his behaviour had a disturbing effect on her and her family.
“I'm torn emotionally because I have compassion for anybody who's reaching out in need — fans often do that,” Twain said.
“I feel very sad ... and awkward having to go through these very personal matters with Mr. Palumbo because it's such an invasion of his privacy.”
But she bristled at the defence's suggestion that the situation was simply a “misunderstanding between two people.”
“No, I would not agree with that,” replied Twain, adding that nothing she heard at the trial altered her feelings about Palumbo.
“I still have the fear and anxiety of being contacted in the future by Mr. Palumbo. And I do want it to stop. And as far as I know, this is the only way to go about that.”
She responded similarly to the defence's argument that Palumbo was so doggedly persistent in his pursuit of the singer because he had never been given a clear indication from Twain herself that she didn't reciprocate his romantic feelings.
The Timmins, Ont., singer replied that her brother-in-law had told Palumbo directly that she didn't welcome his advances, and she also arranged for a Swiss florist to stop accepting Palumbo's orders. Further, she pointed out that she doesn't have time to personally reply to each person who writes to her.
“I choose to respond to very special cases ... otherwise, I'd never write songs or make records or do anything else,” Twain said.
“Most of my contact is with charities, sick children, crisis situations ... people coming back from war.
“I would not consider Mr. Palumbo a special case where I would address it directly.”
Twain was feisty during her testimony. She disagreed with many of the statements made by the defence and confidently reasserted her feelings on the intent behind Palumbo's words. She responded to one intensive line of questioning by quipping: “I'm not a walking information centre of dates and names.”
And as the morning session was winding down, Barnes addressed Palumbo's feelings for the singer.
“He's in love, Ms. Twain. He keeps trying. Would you agree that you're an expert on love?”
“No,” Twain responded quickly, with a laugh. “I do not claim to be an expert on love.”
Still, Barnes praised Twain for her compassion after the second day of the trial, noting that Palumbo had asked Barnes to treat Twain with the utmost kindness during cross-examination.
“Have you ever seen a kinder, gentler witness?” Barnes asked, referring to the 46-year-old You're Still the One singer.
“She's here to say what she has to say but she's not taking any pleasure in it at all.”
Barnes said that Palumbo, similarly, was not enjoying the process, despite the suggestion from a reporter that he might be thrilled to be in direct contact with Twain, even under the circumstances.
But Barnes did say that he believed Palumbo remained in love with Twain.
“Oh, I'm sure he is,” Barnes responded. “I can't imagine that his mind got changed. If you fall in love with somebody, you're in love with them.... He's still in love with her, but he realizes now that she does not want to have any attention from him whatsoever.
“He can never sort of say, ever again: ‘Gee, I didn't know.’ Clearly, he knows.”