The former fashion writer on trial in New York for kidnapping and sexual assault may have acted out his depraved fantasies on a former female colleague because he is mentally ill, according to a psychologist who testified at his trial as a defense witness.
And according to a personal manifesto recovered when he was arrested, Peter Braunstein had plenty of other targets in his sights, including powerful Vogue editor Anna Wintour, the inspiration for Meryl Streep's character in "The Devil Wears Prada."
Braunstein's lawyers have admitted that he committed the assault, but they argue that he was too mentally ill to understand the implications of what he was doing.
The former media reporter for Women's Wear Daily, whose life went into a tailspin after he was fired from his job and dumped by his girlfriend, turned his feelings of rejection into an all-consuming anger at the perceived hypocrisy of the fashion world and the government, according to defense psychologist Barbara Kirwin, who interviewed him last year.
That culminated in his final act in which Braunstein lit smoke bombs and dressed up as a firefighter to gain access to the woman's apartment, where he chloroformed her, stripped her and assaulted her for 13 hours on Halloween night in 2005.
Prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney's office are trying to prove that Braunstein methodically set out to commit his crime.
Police discovered what they described as the personal manifesto in Braunstein's backpack when he was arrested on the University of Memphis campus a month and a half after his attack on the victim. Portions of the manifesto were read aloud in court outside of the jury's presence Monday morning.
"I'm going to kill Anna Wintour -- because I just feel like it," Braunstein wrote in the manifesto.
He wrote that shooting Wintour would be "too impersonal," and that he envisioned a more intense and personal demise for the well-known fashion world figure, although those details weren't disclosed.
"Wintour will be escorted by eunuchs to a palace in hell run entirely by large rats," he wrote in the portion of the manifesto read aloud.
In his writings, Braunstein identified with well-known serial killers such as "Son of Sam" David Berkowitz, the Columbine High School shooters and Andrew Cunanan, who murdered designer Gianni Versace in 1997. And he quotes a lyric from late rapper Notorious B.I.G.: "You're nobody 'til you kill a whole bunch of other people."
Much of Braunstein's anger could be traced to his experience working in the heart of the fashion world and dating "glamorous" and "glitzy" Jane Larkworthy, according to Kirwin.
The pressures of deadlines at the job and the peer pressures of socializing with Larkworthy's fashionable friends were too much for Braunstein to handle and fed into his paranoia and delusions of grandeur, said Kirwin. She added that Braunstein even affected a retro '60s/'70s "Austin Powers" fashion style to cope with the stress of the situation.
Braunstein's behavior during and after his relationship with Larkworthy -- who testified last week that he had an explosive temper, twice tied her to a chair while he caressed a knife, and repeatedly harassed her friends and colleagues with obscene phone calls and e-mails -- are characteristics of severe mental illness, according to Kirwin.
"Peter Braunstein's mental illness was so clearly the most textbook case of paranoid schizophrenia that I've ever seen in my experience," said Kirwin, who said she interviewed him during hospital visits in early 2006 and subjected him to a battery of tests, one of which is designed to uncover those who fake illness.
During one visit on March 29, 2006, she said Braunstein had a red abrasion on his forehead which was said to be the result of banging his head on the bars of his cell.
Kirwin said Braunstein's ultimate desire was to commit suicide, to go out "in an apocalyptic fashion," and that he was upset that he didn't succeed in that attempt upon his arrest, when he stabbed himself three times in the neck.
"He had given it his best shot," she said. "And he was kind of incredulous that he could stab himself in the neck and survive."
As a result of his suicidal behavior, Braunstein has been taking numerous drugs during the last year and a half while he's been detained at Bellevue Hospital -- a cocktail that includes the prescription drugs Zoloft, Prozac, Ambien, Halcien, Vicoden and Pherenol.
Kirwin said Braunstein began illegal drug use during his undergraduate years at George Washington University, when he self-medicated and "put himself in a marijuana haze." And in addition to drugs, he craved female companionship, which provided him with mental stability, she said.
"Women were his therapy," she testified.
He fell madly in love while studying abroad in France in 1985, and he and his girlfriend even talked about getting engaged. But the couple broke up when her family objected to the relationship.
That was the start of a long pattern in which Braunstein found temporary inner peace in romance but then spiralled out of control once each relationship ended, said Kirwin. That climaxed with the Larkworthy romance which ended in "an apocalyptic way," she said he told her.
Kirwin said Braunstein was surprised that his victim went to the police because he believed it was all just an innocent fantasy.
"He was just looking at it as a comic book crime," she said, adding that he felt sorry for the victim because she lost her job. She said Braunstein told her, "I didn't understand why she went to the police because I didn't think that it was a violent act."
According to Kirwin, Braunstein couldn't tell the difference between his consensual fantasies he acted out with Larkworthy and the assault on the victim.
Under cross-examination, prosecutors tried to undermine Kirwin's credibility by demonstrating that she apparently overbilled for her services and seemed to exaggerate her credentials. Assistant district attorney Maxine Rosenthal also questioned the fact that Kirwin did not interview Braunstein's friends, family and ex-lovers and that she did not have access to many of Braunstein's writings when she compiled her report in May 2006.
Braunstein once wrote that killers target their victims because "it reminds you of how you once had life in you and how it was slowly sucked away."