NEW YORK – Convicted murderer Laurie "Bambi" Bembenek (search) went on "The Dr. Phil Show" to clear her name, but she wound up with an amputated leg and a lawsuit against Dr. Phil, Paramount, and 52 staffers on his syndicated show.
The suit, filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, accuses Dr. Phil and his co-defendants of imprisoning her in a Marina Del Rey apartment, where she shattered her leg in the act of escaping out a window with bed sheets she had tied together. Her leg eventually had to be amputated below the knee.
The alleged imprisonment and subsequent escape, both of which occurred a year ago, were eerily reminiscent of an earlier time in the life of Bembenek. She had previously escaped from prison and fled to Canada in 1990 after serving eight years for a murder she has insisted for years she did not commit.
The story of the ex-Milwaukee cop and Playboy Club cocktail waitress convicted in 1982 of killing her husband's ex-wife spawned duelling TV movies 10 years ago -- "Woman on the Run: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story," starring Tatum O'Neal on NBC; and "Calendar Girl, Cop Killer? The Bambi Bembenek Story," starring Lindsay Frost.
Now, the saga of Bembenek, 45, seems poised for a sequel.
In her lawsuit, Bembenek accuses Dr. Phil McGraw (search), Paramount (search), two producers identified as Marsha Armstrong and Chere Graham, and 50 "Dr. Phil" staff members who are not named, of holding Bembenek against her will in the Marina Del Rey apartment while they awaited the results of a DNA test which she was hopeful would prove her innocent of the 21-year-old murder.
The lawsuit could turn on whether Bembenek was actually confined in the apartment.
In court papers, Bembenek insists she was driven to Marina Del Rey and forced by "Dr. Phil" producers to stay there for an unspecified length of time in an apartment with no phone, radio or TV set. She says this led to a panic attack stemming from her years of incarceration and causing her to attempt the escape in which she was badly injured.
But Paramount disagrees that Bembenek was confined. In a prepared statement, the executive producer of "Dr. Phil," Carla Pennington, insisted yesterday that Bembenek could have walked out the door at any time. Her statement characterized Bembenek's escape out a window as "an apparent prank" that went horribly awry. "We think her claims have no merit," the statement said.
There was no comment from McGraw yesterday.
Paramount now has 30 days to respond to Bembenek's lawsuit.
The suit asks for punitive damages in amounts still to be determined. Bembenek's lawyer, Stephen Bernard of Nagelberg & Bernard in Los Angeles, says the requested damage amounts will be filed separately.
The results of the DNA test performed by the TV show have never been revealed.