After pleading not guilty to a stalking charge, Abdulrahman Zeitoun left an Orleans Parish courthouse Wednesday on a short leash and with a stern warning from Criminal District Court Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson.
“We’re going to monitor where you are,” the judge told the man, who became something of a literary hero after Hurricane Katrina but has since become equally well known for allegedly stalking and even trying to kill his ex-wife.
A state grand jury last week handed up an indictment against Zeitoun, charging him with felony stalking of Kathy Zeitoun because of run-ins he allegedly had with her between Jan. 26 and May 16, the day he was arrested on suspicion of violating a protective order issued in October.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday and posted a $50,000 bond, which canceled a warrant issued after the indictment. But he was essentially placed on house arrest when Landrum-Johnson ordered him to wear an ankle monitor.
Zeitoun, 56, will be allowed to attend church and, at the request of his attorney, to continue to do volunteer work, but he was told by the judge to avoid any contact with Kathy Zeitoun, whether directly or through other people.
J.C. Lawrence, Zeitoun’s attorney, told a reporter that he could not say exactly where his client volunteers, except to say “in the community” and possibly at his mosque.
Landrum-Johnson told Zeitoun that she will toss him behind bars if there are any violations of the protective order or ankle monitor restrictions. The protective order prohibits him from going within 100 yards of nine properties he and his ex-wife still own together.
Lawrence said the bond amount is “more than sufficient to ensure his presence” at the next hearing on July 10.
“He’s going to ride this thing out, and we’ll try it” in court, Lawrence said.
The one-count indictment is the latest effort by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office to win a felony conviction against the protagonist of Dave Eggers’ acclaimed 2009 book “Zeitoun,” an account of the couple’s supposedly enduring love and perseverance as the painting contractor fell victim to a criminal justice system left in shambles in the aftermath of the storm.
The nonfiction work portrayed Zeitoun as a stalwart husband and father who rescued neighbors by canoe before landing behind bars on a bogus charge.
Since then, Kathy Zeitoun has claimed her ex-husband tried to kill her in July 2012, then offered a fellow Orleans Parish Prison inmate $20,000 to kill her. She has said he abused her before and after the storm in a progression of violence that escalated in recent years.
In the 2012 incident, she has claimed, Zeitoun blocked her vehicle at Prytania Street and Jackson Avenue, smashed her windshield and beat her with a tire iron as she tried to get away. She said he tried to strangle her as a witness attempted to stop him.
The inmate, Donald Pugh, insisted that Zeitoun gave him his wife’s telephone number, offered $20,000 for a hit job and proposed a plan for Pugh to kill her by posing as a prospective tenant at one of the couple’s properties.
Zeitoun was acquitted of the murder charge in a trial without a jury after Judge Frank Marullo declared Pugh to be “a liar” and said prosecutors overcharged Zeitoun with violent crimes for which the evidence fell short.
Louisiana law defines stalking as “the intentional and repeated following or harassing of another person that would cause a reasonable person to feel alarmed or to suffer emotional distress” and carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison if a protective order is in effect.
Kathy Zeitoun has told police that her estranged husband stopped May 16 in front of one of their houses in the 5000 block of South Claiborne Avenue and “delivered an intimidating stare.”
A police report on an April 30 incident says Zeitoun drove past a property the couple owned in the 4600 block of Dart Street, sounded his horn, then drove by again. One of Zeitoun’s daughters told police that her father drove up “at an extremely slow pace” with the window down, stared at her as he passed and raised his right hand in what she described as a “half-ass wave.” She immediately alerted her mother.
Kathy Zeitoun, who now lives in Baton Rouge but manages the former couple’s local properties, secured a six-page protective order three months after the acquittal. Abdulrahman Zeitoun refused to sign it.
Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter, @DCMonteverde.