From across the room, he stared at her with an unblinking gaze. She could feel his eyes, but rather than meeting his stare the attractive blonde gazed down with her arms crossed defiantly across her lap.
For the first time in more than two years, former lovers Peter Braunstein and Jane Larkworthy met again Wednesday. But this time, they were separated by two burly security officers in a court of law.
In a pointed, revealing afternoon on the witness stand, Larkworthy described to jurors how her former boyfriend's behavior shifted during their relationship, about how he changed from a man who wrote heartfelt love letters into a frightening bully who physically assaulted her.
Although he is not on trial for his behavior toward Larkworthy, her testimony is considered crucial to the current case in which Braunstein is accused of kidnapping and sexually abusing one of her former co-workers.
Prosecutors argue that the couple's breakup eventually drove Braunstein to dress up as a firefighter on Halloween night in 2005 to gain access to the alleged victim's apartment, whom they say he stripped, tied to a bed and brutally assaulted for 13 hours.
The prosecution is trying to demonstrate that Braunstein, on trial for the Halloween attack (he has admitted his role in it), knew what he was doing. The defense argues that Braunstein is a latent paranoid schizophrenic, and that Larkworthy's testimony is evidence of Braunstein's unraveling.
Ever since Braunstein made headlines as a fugitive up until his arrest in Memphis, Tenn., in December 2005 and through the current trial, Larkworthy's tale has been the most anticipated part of the saga. Who else could explain his descent into madness than the woman who seemingly inspired his rage?
Fantasy Games and Sexual Role-Playing
As soon as Larkworthy, her blond hair tied up in a ponytail and wearing a white jacket over a black dress, took the witness stand at New York Supreme Court yesterday afternoon, the courtroom became riveted. In the audience were her new husband, whom she married seven months ago, and her brother and sister.
Toward the end of her two hours of testimony, she related an anecdote that eerily predicted Braunstein's assault on her co-worker. At one point in their two-year relationship, he introduced her to fantasy role-playing. Larkworthy described how Braunstein liked one particular scenario in which he pretended that he was a patient in a mental institution and that she was a "mean, manipulative" nurse. She even bought a nurse's uniform to play the role.
"I would tease him sexually and act like I was in control … but he was not taking his meds and pretended to feed them to me, and then I would be out of it and it would proceed to sex."
Other fantasy scenarios involved him coming up behind her and putting a rag in her mouth, said Larkworthy.
Former Lovers, Heartfelt Words
Larkworthy described a time at the beginning of their relationship when she was smitten with Braunstein, and he with her. Shortly after their August 2001 meeting in the offices of Fairchild Publications, where he worked as a media reporter at Women's Wear Daily and she was a beauty editor at W magazine, the couple began an affair.
She said was captivated by his personality, describing him as "incredibly charming, incredibly intelligent, flirtatious and very intriguing and very funny."
The defense hopes to use Larkworthy's testimony about letters he wrote to her as evidence that he was a man in love who eventually snapped. Early in 2002, while he was in Paris on assignment, Larkworthy testified that he wrote her romantic notes full of passion and elegance and wishing that he was with her on the Place Vendome, fantasizing that they could slip inside for a cocktail.
"I miss you so," he wrote. "God, how lovely it would be to have you next to me. … My arms get goosebumpy and my chest begins to float."
Her letters to him are just as tender: "I can't wait to lock eyes with yours and feel your loving touch. It gives me such joy to be in love with you Peter."
Larkworthy testified that one of the first signs of trouble began when Braunstein demanded two tickets to the Vogue Fashion awards in October 2002, an incident that got him in trouble with his boss. When one of his supervisors demanded an apology, Braunstein refused and was eventually fired. After that, he told Larkworthy never to speak to his former boss again and even demanded that she quit her job.
"He called me and said, 'I can't believe that you still work there.' And I said, 'This is my job. I want to keep my job," said Larkworthy.
They argued on the eve of her 40th birthday party, at which she sang songs to friends and even dedicated a song to Braunstein, not knowing if would even show up.
"When I got onstage, I could see his curly hair in the shadows," she testified, choking up at the memory.
The Couple Moves in Together
In April 2003, Larkworthy recounted, he moved in with her and kept himself busy shopping around a novel, "Paparazzi," to different publishers and writing freelance articles. Larkworthy said she was paying all the bills and household expenses.
After some up and down times in the relationship, Braunstein eventually proposed to her. "At one point he said, 'Jane, let's go to Vegas and get married,' and I said no."
She said the rejection upset Braunstein, and the couple broke up. After later reconciling, his behavior grew more odd, she said, including one night when he called her at the office and told her "If you're not home in 10 minutes, there'll be no apartment to come home to."
When she came home, he dropped three to five bottles of red wine on the floor, saying, "This is what it's like being with you," she said.
She said he then turned the table on her, telling Larkworthy that she had anger issues and psychological problems.
She said that she didn't report the incident to the police because she was afraid of him.
Another night, she said, Braunstein came over to where she was lying on the bed and asked her if she wanted to live alone. When she said yes, "he started screaming, pulled me by the hair into the other room, shoved me down into a chair and got some masking tape and taped me to the chair," she testified. "He got a small carving knife from the kitchen and started waving it back and forth … he said, 'I want you to see what it's like. Now you know what it's like to not be in control.'"
She said she didn't think he was going to kill her but just wanted to punish her. Later, the couple went to bed together.
Again, Larkworthy said she didn't report the incident to police, saying that she "held out hope that I could break up with him in a calm manner" and "didn't have the guts" to end the relationship.
At one point, she remembered telling him in exasperation, "You tied me to a chair!" She said Braunstein ignored her but repeatedly asked her, "Are you going to be a better girlfriend?"
She said Braunstein threatened her by saying he would go to the police and tell them that she was domestically abusing him, but Larkworthy still played the part of the loving girlfriend.
When Braunstein started producing a play, "Andy and Edie," about the life of Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick, she read scenes with him, bought an ad in Backstage magazine and set up a P.O. box for him to receive headshots from actors. At one point, she even dressed up as Edie Sedgwick and handed out fliers for the play at a downtown party.
Relationship Comes to an End
In November 2003, Braunstein became upset that a friend of Larkworthy's had not asked him about his play at a dinner party. The next day, while she was visiting her family, he demanded an apology from the friend and told Larkworthy to come home, saying that if she wasn't home by 9 p.m. "the doors will be locked and the police will be here," Larkworthy recounted in her testimony.
When she got back to the apartment, she said Braunstein shoved her back in a chair and threatened himself with an 8-inch serrated bread knife, intimating that he would make it look as if she had attacked him, she says.
"Well, I might get a couple of stitches, but the police will find it very interesting," Braunstein said, according to Larkworthy.
She said she went to bed, and the next morning proceeded to hide all the big knives, to the amusement of Braunstein, who joked that "that wouldn't stop him."
After having sex with him because she thought that would calm him down, she said Braunstein pulled out a small steak knife and started caressing it.
At that point, "I picked up the key, walked to the foyer and I walked over to the 17th precinct," she said.
When two policeman came back to the apartment, she said Braunstein told them that Larkworthy had been domestically abusing him. He was sent to Bellevue Hospital for evaluation.
When he got out of the hospital, she said he left her a message saying, "I got out of Bellevue in record time, but they're very worried about you."
Larkworthy changed the locks at her apartment.
After several weeks, during which she returned his belongings to him, Larkworthy said Braunstein's rage took another turn. At one point, he e-mailed her, writing, "Fasten your safety belt, it's going to be a bumpy ride," she said.
She says he started calling her "Biohazard" and indicating that she might lose her job. Larkworthy soon changed her cell phone and home phone numbers.
Braunsten Allegedly Takes on Other Names
Soon after, an alleged new tactic started to take shape. Under the guise of different pseudonyms, such as Nigel Greenway, Claude Jenkins and Clyde Weatherhill, Braunstein allegedly started e-mailing Larkworthy's bosses and co-workers, sometimes sending links to Web sites where he'd posted naked photos of his ex-girlfriend.
"Paris Hilton is no longer alone," he allegedly wrote in one e-mail. "See the hot saucy photos of Jane Larkworthy."
At one point, Larkworthy said, Braunstein posed as a doctor from Bellevue named "Dr. Sanjay Gupta" and sent a letter to Larkworthy's boss, saying that she was "psychologically unstable."
Braunstein also used the power of the media, calling a reporter at the New York Post's Page Six gossip column and feeding Page six an item about her. On January 8, 2005, the column's lead story reported that Larkworthy, dressed in a Victoria's Secret teddy and high heels, attacked Braunstein after they'd had sex, scratching him like a cat.
Soon, she said, neighbors in her building received a letter that asked, "Dear Neighbor, Do we really want someone like this living in our building?" alongside a copy of the Page Six item.
For the next year, she said Braunstein placed prank phone calls to her office, pretending to be a woman screaming in orgasm. She claimed he also posted her photo and her work number on Adult Friend Finder, an online swingers Web site, which prompted calls from solicitous men.
Filing a Restraining Order
Finally, in January 2005, Larkworthy called the police, who arrested Braunstein, and a court issued a restraining order that mandated he stay away from her until September 2008.
Braunstein had known his alleged victim, who worked alongside the Larkworthy at W magazine, for some time, according to Larkworthy,
When the couple was first dating, Braunstein and Larkworthy used to joke that their affair was being eclipsed by the victim's relationship with another male colleague, she said. But Braunstein was not amused -- that male colleague had once dated Braunstein's ex-girlfriend, Debra Michals, before Braunstein met her, according to Larkworthy.
She said Braunstein also liked to compliment the style of the victim, who often wore designer clothes, saying that she dressed sexily and provocatively. The victim was eventually fired from the magazine for stealing shoes.
Asked by Assistant District Attorney Maxine Rosenthal why she didn't call the police earlier, Larkworthy responded, "I thought it would stop. Everyone said, 'He'll get it out of his system … eventually he'll get tired.'"