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(photo credit: AP [file])
A stalker was ordered to stay away from Holocaust scholar Elie Wiesel for the next three years when he appeared in a California courtroom for the first time Friday to face charges of assaulting the Nobel Peace laureate.
Eric Hunt, 22, who was extradited from his home state of New Jersey on Thursday, did not speak or enter a plea when he was arraigned in the Feb. 1 attack at a San Francisco hotel where Wiesel addressed a peace forum.
His defense lawyer, John Runfola, said he was weighing an insanity defense in the case.
"Eric has an undiagnosed psychiatric disorder," Runfola said outside court. "He is not a Holocaust denier,"
Hunt has been charged with attempted kidnapping, false imprisonment, battery, stalking, elder abuse and hate crimes which carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a $10,000 (â‚¬7,415) fine, according to prosecutor Alan Kennedy.
Wiesel, who chronicled his experiences as a Jewish teenager at two Nazi death camps in the best-selling book "Night," told police he was accosted by a young man who asked him for an interview and then dragged him off an elevator at the Argent Hotel.
In the days after the incident, Wiesel said he had not been so afraid for his life since his days at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Meanwhile, someone identifying himself as Eric Hunt posted a detailed account of having stalked and attacked Wiesel on an anti-Semitic Web site.
The Eric Hunt who was in court Friday was arrested at a New Jersey psychiatric hospital where his mother had him placed after he returned from a solo "road trip" in February, according to Runfola.
Hunt was given psychiatric drugs while he was jailed in New Jersey, where another lawyer delayed his extradition to California by arguing he was not mentally competent, Runfola said.
"I don't know the amount of time he had this fixation with Mr. Wiesel, if he had a fixation with Mr. Wiesel," he said.
Prosecutor Kennedy told Judge Donna Little he plans to ask for permission to videotape Wiesel's testimony at an as-yet unscheduled hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to try Hunt. The procedure is often used in cases that hinge on the accounts of older witnesses who may be unavailable to testify at trial, he said.
Hunt remains jailed on $500,000 (â‚¬370,755) bail and does not plan to ask the judge to reduce the amount, Runfola said. At the prosecutor's request, Little nonetheless signed an order requiring Hunt to stay at least 150 yards away from Wiesel and to have no written or oral contact with him through May 14, 2010.
Hunt was scheduled to return to court next Wednesday to enter a plea.