- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

A divided federal appeals court panel ruled that prosecutors cannot tell jurors that a man accused of killing his ex-wife compared himself to O.J. Simpson.
In a 2-1 decision, a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Richmond ruled Thursday that Jay E. Lentz's statements cannot be used because they would bias a jury against him.
The appellate decision upholds a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Alexandria, who said in May that the statements were unfairly prejudicial because "the O.J. Simpson case has become a shorthand way to describe tragic domestic violence and the inflammatory inference of getting away with murder."
Mr. Lentz, 43, of Greenfield, Ind., faces the death penalty and is accused in federal court of luring his ex-wife across state lines from her Arlington home to his home in Fort Washington, Md., and killing her in 1996.
The two were in a custody dispute over their daughter.
Her body was never found, but her blood-soaked car was found in the District.
He has been in jail awaiting trial since April 2001.
Prosecutors' case against Mr. Lentz is largely circumstantial and had included four threatening statements he is said to have made to his ex-wife. In one instance, according to Doris Lentz's pastor, Mr. Lentz told his ex-wife, "If O.J. can get away with it, so can I."
Also, Mrs. Lentz told a police officer that her husband had told her, "O.J. had the right idea."
Appeals Judge M. Blane Michael, in his opinion released Thursday, wrote that Judge Lee was within his discretion to rule such statements inadmissible. He also pointed out that prosecutors can use numerous other statements to demonstrate that Mrs. Lentz was afraid of her ex-husband.
Appeals Judge William B. Traxler Jr. upheld the ruling for a different reason, saying the statements violate court rules against hearsay testimony.
The dissenting judge, Robert B. King, said he saw no reason to exclude the statements. If the comparisons to Simpson are prejudicial, "that prejudice is entirely self-inflicted," he wrote.
"I would say, put most simply, that 'he chose the words and he's stuck with them,'" Judge King wrote.
He said hearsay testimony can be allowed in certain cases, when the acts the defendant is accused of prohibit people, in this case Mrs. Lentz, from testifying about what they saw or heard.
Prosecutors have the right to ask the entire 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the issue.
Mr. Lentz's attorney, federal public defender Michael Lieberman, said he would not be surprised if prosecutors appeal, given the divided ruling by the three-judge panel.
He declined to comment on how important the O.J. statements are to the government's case, but said he doesn't "think they have much of a case even with the statements."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Mellin, who is prosecuting the Lentz case, could not be reached for comment.

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