January 15, 1996 12:00 PM

AT FIRST GLANCE, IT LOOKED LIKE any other Madonna-centric media event, with scrambling news crews and ogling fans swarming around her black limousine. But as soon as she entered courtroom 116 in the L.A. Criminal Courts Building on Jan. 3, it became clear that this was no ordinary Madonna performance. Inside, a jury listened intently as the normally flamboyant singer, 37, dressed with subdued elegance in a black, knee-length suit, soberly delivered testimony against a 38-year-old drifter accused of stalking and threatening to kill her. “He was there to take me away; he wanted me to be his wife,” she said in measured tones. “If he couldn’t have me [he told my secretary], he would slit my throat, from ear to ear.”

Madonna‘s hour-long testimony may bring to some kind of conclusion an unsettling series of events that began when Robert Dewey Hoskins was first found hanging around the singer’s Hollywood Hills estate. Hoskins showed up at Madonna‘s home last April 7, jumping a security wall before being ejected from the 3.5-acre grounds by a private guard. (Madonna was not home at the time.) Returning from a bike ride with her personal trainer the following day, Madonna encountered Hoskins at her gate. “He looked homeless, dirty; his clothes were wrinkled, and he had a crazy look in his eyes,” she testified. His stare, she said, was “creepy…deranged. It was scary.” Hoskins said nothing but left a note that said, “I love you. You will be my wife for keeps.” The appearances by Hoskins were unsettling enough, Madonna says, to persuade her to sell the estate, once the home of gangster Bugsy Siegel. Seven weeks later, while Madonna was in Florida, where she also owns a home, Hoskins was back, this time carrying a four-inch wooden heart with the oddly misspelled inscription “Love To My Wife Madnna.” He made it over the estate fence and led private security guard Basil Stephens, 36, on a 10-minute chase. Hoskins allegedly lunged at Stephens, who then shot the intruder twice, hitting him in the arm and pelvis. “We believe he had every right to shoot under those circumstances,” said LAPD investigating detective Andrew Purdy.

Hoskins, who has served time in Oregon for burglary and a parole violation, boasted last year to acquaintances in Yuma Pine, Ore., that he had married Madonna after she picked him up on the street in her limousine. “He would come in all the time and talk crazy,” says Waterhole tavern bartender Tim Whitney. “He told me he was going to go down to California and get Madonna and bring her back. I thought it was crap. I was shocked that he had really gone down there.”

Hoskins is described by family members in Yuma Pine, a farming community where he grew up, as having a history of erratic behavior, which a brother says may be due to alcohol and drug abuse. A onetime logger who is estranged from his wife and five children, the bearded Hoskins sat looking bewildered during the first day of testimony in the trial, which may go to the jury this week.

Madonna testified only reluctantly—after Judge Andrew Kauffman threatened to have her arrested if she did not appear. Hoskins’s obsessions, she said, had caused her to have nightmares, and she dreaded facing him, even in the security of court. “I didn’t want to be in the same room with a man who threatened my life,” she told the jury. “I feel sick to my stomach…disturbed that the man who threatened my life is sitting across from me…I feel it made his fantasies come true. I’m sitting in front of him, and that’s what he wants.”

With that, Madonna—who looked at Hoskins only once, to identify him for the court—rose and walked from the courtroom. As she left, she did not even glance in his direction.

STEVE DOUGHERTY

LYNDON STAMBLER and JEFF SCHNAUFER in Los Angeles and BILL DONAHUE in Oregon

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