A federal judge who last week overturned Jay Lentz’s capital kidnapping conviction ruled yesterday that the former naval intelligence officer could be released without bail in 48 hours.
U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee gave prosecutors that much time to appeal his decision to throw out Mr. Lentz’s conviction on kidnapping resulting in the death of his ex-wife.
In overturning the conviction, Judge Lee said prosecutors had not proved the kidnapping.
“The charge is and remains a very serious charge,” Judge Lee said. He said a review of the trial proceedings raised serious questions about the federal prosecution of the case.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond could rule on an appeal within six months, but Judge Lee said that holding Mr. Lentz until all appeals were exhausted could mean incarceration for six years, including the time Mr. Lentz has already served.
The judge also said Mr. Lentz’s conviction could be reinstated if he does not to show up for court proceedings related to the appeal.
Mr. Lentz, 44, sat quietly in an orange-and-white jail jumpsuit during yesterday’s hearing in Alexandria. He is being held in the Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange.
Doris Lentz, 31, vanished in April 1996. Her body has never been found, though her bloodstained car turned up in the District. Prosecutors contend that Mr. Lentz lured her from her Arlington home to his Fort Washington home under the pretext of picking up their daughter, Julia.
The girl, who was 4 at the time, was with relatives in Indiana.
Judge Lee ruled that Mr. Lentz should be free to return to Bloomington, Ind., where he will live with his mother and daughter, who is now 12. Mr. Lentz will be subject to home monitoring and prohibited from owning guns or contacting anyone involved with the case. Violations of any of the terms of his release could also carry penalties of as much as 15 years in prison.
Mr. Lentz was convicted in U.S. District Court in Alexandria after an unusual break in deliberations. Jurors worked four days before telling Judge Lee they were deadlocked. He urged them to continue, and they returned the following day, June 24, but were still unable to decide.
Judge Lee was scheduled to begin vacation June 25 and agreed to let the panel resume deliberations July 7.
When they did, jurors convicted Mr. Lentz in less than an hour. They later recommended a sentence of life without parole, rather than the death penalty.
“This man has been convicted of the ultimate crime, that is killing another human being,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Mellin argued during his effort to persuade Judge Lee to hold the defendant.